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If you didn’t get an invite to Paris fashion week this year, there could be another way to get a glimpse into the rarefied world of haute couture. Thanks to the Paris Haute Couture exhibition – the city’s first major exhibition dedicated to this modern day art form – the hoi polloi have a chance to see some of the world’s most exquisite creations up close.

On display in the exhibition wing of Paris’ City Hall until 6 July are more than 100 haute couture dresses and outfits, showcasing intricate designs from illustrious Parisian fashion houses including Poiret at the turn of the 19th Century, Chanel and Schiaparelli in the 1930s through to contemporary designs by Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy in the current decade.

The glamorous ball gowns and cocktail dresses as well as natty daywear outfits are displayed on mannequins of varying sizes to reflect the shape of the ideal woman at the time of each design. Each piece has been painstakingly created using luxurious silks and velvets, with details such as sparkling Swarovski crystals.

Also on display are design sketches, fabric swatches and photographs of the designers and seamstresses at work, allowing a peek into this exclusive and quintessentially Parisian world, from the conception stage to the finished catwalk-ready product.

Entrance is free, and no tickets are needed.

Kim Laidlaw is the Paris Localite for BBC Travel. She also writes www.unlockparis.com.

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