Two Italians fired broadsides at Parisian couture for the spring season. Pierpaolo Piccoli’s first solo collection for Valentino takes a line of such purity and apparent effortlessness that modern couture no longer seems an impossible dream. With casual hair, little make-up and flat sandals, the models stride through life, their beauty enhanced by daringly simple, long pleated dresses or white trouser suits in appliqu├ęd lace.

Donatella Versace’s static display of seventeen extraordinary outfits focuses on craftwork helping to define body-caressing shapes -knotted skeins of crystal or chain mail, undulating clouds of pleated tulle and cascades of hand-set, dip-dyed ostrich feathers – the grandest modern red carpet dressing. And Iris van Herpen is a modernist who knows no other way, based on scientific alchemy, her fabrics create gravity-defying sculpture dresses.

For the rest, contemporaneity is a learning curve. Timeless in intention, couture often looks backwards to go forwards. Maria Grazia Chiuri, Piccoli’s erstwhile design partner now in charge for Dior, brings a gorgeous softness to tailored daywear and spectacular but relaxed evening gowns. Daywear stars also in Schiaparelli’s symbol-appliqued trousers suits, capes and maxi-dresses, Chanel haute bourgeois, generously curved tweeds, Gaultier’s louche Parisian tuxedos and Giambattista Valli’s cocktail-bound silk tunics.

For night, the big dress is the surprise return, from 1950s-style in pastel satin and silver sequins at Chanel, tiny embroidered lace flowers at Valli or bouffant orange tulle at Armani Prive and Zuhair Murad. Not exactly modern but always a winner.