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Fashions sparkle at Paris Haute Couture week

From left, Giorgio Armani Prive, Stephane Rolland, Elie Saab and Chanel Getty Images/CBS

(CBS/AP) PARIS - From the artfully, draped tulle and silk gowns at Elie Sabb, to the elaborate Philip Treacy straw bow headpieces at Giorgio Armani Prive, there was no short of drama at Paris Haute Couture fashion week.

The three-day-long couture extravaganza, which wraps up Wednesday, showcased garments, made from the finest materials and worthy for A-list actresses, royalty, and women wealthy enough to fork out the price of a car for a single dress.

Pictures: 2011 Paris Haute Couture fashion week

Here are a few highlights from this year's shows.

When it comes to putting on blockbuster shows, the sky is literally the limit for Chanel: The deep-pocketed French label recreated a life-sized model of Paris' Place Vendome complete with a starry night sky.

The Chanel display usually takes place in the morning, but to add to the nighttime feeling of Tuesday's show, it was held at the unprecedented hour of 10 p.m. But the added authenticity of it being dark both inside and outside the venue was largely lost on the fatigued fashion crowd, which had been working nonstop for the previous 11 hours.

Models circled the set's centerpiece a life-sized version of the towering column that presides over Place Vendome, Paris' jewelry Mecca in cropped jackets with shirt-dress hybrids with sculptural bell-shaped peplums, which were layered over the hobblingly slim pencil skirts. In dark tweed embroidered with Swarovski crystals, the ensembles twinkled like the faux night sky of the set.

Admiring the fashion house's couture work from the front row were actresses Elle Fanning, Milla Jovovich, Diane Kruger with boyfriend Joshua Jackson, TV personality Alexa Chung and Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour.

Giorgio Armani Prive dedicated his collection of wildly expensive made-to-measure skintight column dresses and painted-on pantsuits to the victims of Japan's earthquake and tsunami.

"Homage to Japan'' incorporated Japanese silks and shapes culled from kimonos into the Italian designer's trademark lean, clean-lined shapes.

Strips of printed silks peeked out from slits on the back of peak-shouldered cropped jackets in black velvet. A pencil skirt and bandeau tops fitted with stiff architectural panels bloomed with oversized cherry blossoms. The elaborate head pieces reportedly took milliner Treacy, a  British royals favorite, two months to make. 

As usual, the looks were pretty form fitting so it was hard to imagine anyone besides a model or Cate Blanchett, who graced the front row, along with Katie Holmes, managing to wiggle into them.

Rolland also looked to Japan for his fall-winter collection, but whereas Armani silhouettes were constricted, the French designer's were all air and flowing movement.

Satin catsuits with dramatic slits up the thighs had built-in capes that billowed as the models strode boldly down the catwalk, and waterfalls of silky chiffon cascaded down the back of the column gowns.

The collection's oversized accessories and sculptural accents blurred the fine line between couture and art.

Mermaid dresses were cinched at the waist with oversized metal belts that glinted with chunks of fool's gold. Gold tubes stacked in an hourglass shape embellished the front of long-sleeved sheath dresses.

"That belongs in a museum,'' whispered one of the droves of chic couture-buying ladies from her front-row perch as a mermaid gown with an oversized metal and satin bow on the back swept by.

But it was the wedding gown a kimono knit out of thick white yarn into intricate mosaic patterns that took the audience's breath away and best showcased Rolland's impressive technical know-how.

The dress was so heavy, so monumental, that the model sporting it got stuck at the end of the runway, her stick-thin thighs not strong enough to make a U-turn. An usher and Rolland's chic ivory-haired mother scurried over to help her maneuver the train.

Givenchy continued to probe the beating heart of couture with "Albino Angels,'' a pared-down collection of exquisite, feather-light concoctions of ivory tulle, chiffon and shimmering pearls.

Each of the 10 looks was a miracle of inventiveness and painstaking labor.

Somehow, designer Riccardo Tisci and his atelier of seamstresses and embroiderers turned thousands of tiny little iridescent beads into sculptural birds of paradise, the tropical flowers blooming across the midriff of a tank dress. Hundreds of long strands made from the same luminous white beads formed the dress' skirt and hung like a waterfall from an assorted clutch.

Clocking in at 2,000 hours of work, that look was, astoundingly, among the least labor-intensive of the 10.

More than 3,500 hours were poured into hand-cutting tiny circles out of tulle, which were then stacked sometimes 32-deep, on a turtleneck gown in Champagne colored tulle, creating scales that enveloped the delicate mermaid dress.

Brilliantly inventive and exquisitely executed, the collection showcased the endless possibilities of couture and Tisci's enormous talent.

Elie Saab has the formula down pat: Take miles of flowing silks and tulle, whip the fabrics into flattering, nip-waisted silhouettes and cover them with a ton of shimmering sequins and beads and you've got yourself a red carpet winner.

For Wednesday's fall-winter 2012-12 couture collection, the Lebanese designer didn't stray from the winning recipe that has helped him conquer red carpets worldwide. But then again, with gowns that look that good, why would he?

Models walked the catwalk in artfully draped bustier gowns with long flowing skirts cinched at their waists with skinny belts.

The dresses were feather-light and ultra-sheer, but slap on a lining and you'd be ready to go to your next movie premier, gala dinner or black tie soiree.

The fashion world demands audacity and constant change, and many designers attempt to reinvent themselves season after season. But as long as A-list actresses and wealthy women with packed social calendars keep clamoring for his high-glamour gowns, Saab needn't change a thing.

Loaded with beads, rhinestones and sequins, couture is generally a weighty business. But Valentino kept it whisper-light with a fall-winter 2011-12 haute couture collection of sheer chemisier gowns that were about as substantial as a feather.

A light touch has become the signature of the label's new design duo, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli, who over the past two-and-a-half years have steered the label once known for its va-va-voom red carpet looks to an altogether airier place.

On Wednesday, they served up ankle-length chemisier dresses that were dreamy concoctions of flesh-colored tulle, chiffon, lace, feathers and lustrous metallic beads. Retro capes blossomed with flower petal appliques, and skirt suits were riddled with elaborate cutouts.

"That was sheer beauty," gushed actress Anne Hathaway after the show, which was held in the rambling, gilded salons of a Paris mansion.

"Those were the kinds of dresses you dreamed about when you were a kid."