PARIS (Reuters) - Butterfly show-girls fluttered down the Jean Paul Gaultier catwalk in Paris on Wednesday, as the French designer transformed his haute couture gowns into delicate ethereal creations with silky wings in multicolored hues.
Never one to eschew drama, Gaultier added volume to sleeves and collars, bodices and skirts to create magnificent, light-as-air wings in silks, organzas and crisp cottons for his Spring/Summer 2014 collection.
During a trip to London, mounted butterflies in a shop caught the designer's attention, fuelling his imagination, he said.
"I was thinking about colors and fabrics and what they could be and then I kept seeing the shape (of the butterfly) and saw that it could be a body - everything was like a dress," Gaultier told reporters after the show at his design studio.
The modest and always-affable Gaultier said his creations, beautiful though they are, could not compete with Nature.
"What's incredible are these blue butterflies, they're almost metallic blue and then on the back they're almost leopard. It's stunning."
Ruffled wings on silk organza dresses in sky blue and Indian rose had a petal-like fragility, while an asymmetrical gown erupted in a flourish of blue, green, purple and black over one shoulder.
A va-va-voom skirt in vermillion with a dramatic flared hem was sewn from a delicately woven cable that recalled a butterfly net. The netting also showed up at the front of a dramatic Persian blue gown, creating a dramatic peek-a-boo.
The Paris shows, which run through Friday, are a high-profile showcase for a select group of couture houses who still employ highly skilled artisans to sew each garment by hand.
Haute couture - which due to its prohibitive cost is worn by only a few hundred of the richest women around the world - has a minimal effect on a luxury brand's sales, but is a major marketing driver for the $275 billion global luxury industry.
Gaultier is majority-owned by Spanish family luxury group Puig.
Though butterflies were the inspiration of the show, the all-black, femme fatale looks that began the show could well have been inspired by a more sinister insect - the Black Widow.
"There's a little sexiness in it, but elegant and chic and very, very couture," Gaultier said.
Gaultier, who actively embraces street culture and revels in a certain seedy sensibility, injects every collection with a hint of impropriety.
Inspired at various junctures throughout his career by sailors, Gypsies, circus performers and strippers, Gaultier creates clothes for women who look like they have a past.
Fittingly, the raven-haired burlesque artist Dita Von Teese sashayed down the runway in a Monarch butterfly corset made of satin, organza and black velvet to close the show.
"She's beautiful. She's the perfect butterfly," said Gaultier. "She's marvelous. She has the exact shape of a butterfly."
Editing by Patricia Reaney and Stephen Powell