Closing the official calendar of Haute Couture in Paris, British brand Ralph & Russo presented their latest collection on Thursday, as the French capital gelled in a series of protests and demonstrations around town. That did not stop guests and would-be clients from packing the benches, along with a smattering of editors still in town. Monumental arches framed the runway. Floral myth incarnated in the pastel loveliness of dresses playing with light and lightness through open cutwork, guipure and crosshatch appliqué. It was an ode to nature, delivered by the hand of Tamara Ralph and her atelier.
As the show wore on, shapes became more opulent, as did their adornments. One coat dress was extravagantly embroidered, peppered with hundreds of flower-shaped elements connected together in an intricate pattern. The trailing sleeves, so long they rivaled furisode kimono style, opened to reveal the surprise of a creamy white interior. 3D flower buds competed with metallic thread, resin embroidery with geometric pearl embroidery. Degradés of organzas painted in soft-hued shades were sculpted into floral shapes. Male attendants came to turn the bride's voluminous train, which seemed an improbably ceremonious way of returning her down the runway.
You could see a flicker, finally, of what Ralph is all about in her technique. One light peach gown had soft pleats tumbling down the shoulders in a capelet connected at the back and neck. Another formed an ovoid shape, connecting a cocktail-length dress with its puffball cape, that felt novel and flattering. A sheer black organza dress played demure with its floral appliqué. There cannot be any doubt that she has talent and that she knows the feminine form down to the very last curve. And certainly she is a terrific dress maker, able to capture the desires of her couture clients and deliver them fully.
Yet, for all its prettiness, this posy of belles in bloom never truly coalesced into a collection. Ralph certainly has a distracting penchant for overworked silhouettes. One editor remarked that this was a compendium of classic shapes, "couture-by-number". Most certainly, a tighter edit would make the best designs truly stand out. As it were, it was a herbarium of preserved flowers, collected for exhaustivity's sake. As any gardening enthusiast will know, even the wildest English gardens needs weeding.