Swirling translucent veils, the sound of sitars, and the care-free insouciance of Gypsy culture enveloped the Jean Paul Gaultier runway on Wednesday, as the French fashion designer turned eastward to India for inspiration.
The Gaultier label, which is majority owned by Spanish family luxury group Puig, is one of the fashion world's top brands and the designer's shows for the exclusive haute couture week provide key creative inspiration for a wider women's luxury apparel market estimated to be worth $35 billion.
The Paris fashion set found itself transported to Rajasthan for Gaultier's Spring 2013 Haute Couture show, where sinewy models sporting oversized earrings and billowy veils in periwinkle, tangerine and pink took to the catwalk.
One half of the audience expected an elephant to follow as the grand finale, but instead Gaultier offered a delightful Mother Goose moment as an elaborately decorated bride flipped up her voluminous skirt, revealing four little children who scampered down the runway to applause.
Backstage, Gaultier said it was not the first time he had been influenced by India, but this time his collection recalled the Gypsies, a migratory people whose centuries-old ancestral home is India.
"This time I told myself I'm going to do it in another way. The real Gypsies were Indian Gypsies, after that they left," he told reporters.
"It's glimmering, it's incredible the colours that you see, it's superb," he added, speaking of Rajasthan. "I tried to recreate a bit of that, but more the Gypsy side, rather than the Maharaja side. It's more like couture Gypsies."
Haute couture is the creme de la creme of the fashion industry, where made-to-order gowns costing tens of thousands of dollars are meticulously constructed by hand.
Only a small number of labels such as Christian Dior, Chanel and Giorgio Armani are allowed to exhibit haute couture in Paris, which is carefully regulated.
Global consulting firm Bain & Company forecast in an Oct. 15 report that the worldwide luxury industry would bring in estimated revenues of 212 billion euros ($281.56 billion) in 2012 of which women's apparel would be a 27 billion euro slice.
Always lighthearted, Gaultier seated the audience - which included French film star Catherine Deneuve and actress Rossy de Palma, a muse of Spanish director Pedro Almodovar - in sections named after Indian dishes such as Biryani.
Guests gasped and began furiously snapping photos at the appearance of a black form-fitting gown with an exposed brassiere whose diaphanous hot pink veil added a jolt of colour.
Gaultier played with the idea of the exposed conical bra, a signature look he created for Madonna in the 1980s, in an elegant deep purple gown in which both breasts were barely covered with sheer silk mousseline fabric.
Bold stripes, tight pleating and even fringe figured prominently in the collection, where a dose of colourful patchwork offered a fresh, devil-may-care attitude.
Gaultier said the patchwork was harder than it looked to recreate for haute couture, but the designer offered up a fashion tip to anyone with scissors who is on a budget.
"In the time of economic crisis, those who are game, take your old clothes, cut them up and make patchwork! It's a new outfit!"