2016 most incredible couture runway collection

Sometimes a dress flashes by on the runway and you already know it’s going to be a highlight of the season. That was the case at Alexander McQueen Spring ’17, which closed with a jaw-dropping, glittering sequined gown that evoked crashing waves. It seemed to have thousands upon thousands of silvery sequins and ended with a spray of sea-foam tulle; “showstopping” was how Vogue’s Virginia Smith described it. 

Even if 2016 was a rapidly changing year for fashion,there were actually a lot of showstopping looks on the runways. And thanks to the zoom function on Vogue Runway, we’ve been able pore over them in great detail. From the microscopic beads outlining Valentino’s candy pink confections of Spring ’17 to the gorgeous silk flowers on Chanel’s Fall ’16 couture dresses, all of it is the stuff of fashion fantasy. If, like us, you’ve wondered just how much time and effort goes into museum-worthy pieces like these, you’re in for a treat. We asked top designers to give us a glimpse into their ateliers and share the mind-boggling facts and figures (20,000 flowers! 2,000 hours! 20 craftsmen!) behind their creations.

Read everything you need to know about nine of 2016’s most breathtaking looks, from Chanel to Gucci to Atelier Versace below. Here’s hoping 2017 offers even more special pieces!

Alexander McQueen Spring ’17 Ready to Wear, Look 45

A finale-worthy gown if there ever was one, this Sarah Burton–designed Alexander McQueen confection evoked a sea goddess emerging from a shipwreck. With a silk tulle base, the dress features a whopping 500,000 hand-embroidered sequins. The frills at the bottom of the dress, which look like crashing waves, consist of 65 meters of silk tulle.

Valentino Spring ’17 Ready to Wear, Look 62


Pierpaolo Piccioli used nearly every shade of pink for his solo Valentino debut, from neon magenta to blush. The entire collection was straightforwardly, sincerely beautiful, but it was Teddy Quinlivan’s gown near the end of the show that really took our breath away. Inspired by Zandra Rhodes’s caftans from the ’70s, the voluminous, partial-sleeved dress was hand-embroidered with about 20,000 tiny beads, composed of cocceto (opaque colored beads) and georgette applications in two different colors (“paradise rose” and “old rose”), plus chiffon in two other colors (“old rose” and “fuchsia”). Twenty people were involved in the making of the dress; it took 2,000 hours to finish.

Chanel Fall ’16 Couture, Look 68


Karl Lagerfeld is the master of transportive, over-the-top runway sets (airports, supermarkets, icebergs . . .), but he stayed close to home for Chanel’s Fall ’16 couture show. He re-created the house’s atelier, complete with dress forms, sketches, and a cameo from a few of the house’s petit mains. “Behind the girls in the show, there are 200 more who make what they wear—that’s quite a lot no?—and I thought we should show them to the public, too,” Lagerfeld told vogue.com’s Sarah Mower. It was a treat to see them watch the finale gowns walk out; covered in silk flowers, feathers, and bows, Look 68 was particularly stunning. Chanel’s atelier revealed that Maison Lemarié, the house’s long-time source for feathers and silk flowers, applied 20,000 flowers and 1,250 rhinestones to the dress, plus lace inserts embellished with leather flowers and miniature feathers. The bottom hem was hand-embellished with 10 big satin bows

Loewe Fall ’16 Ready to Wear, Look 38


After a slew of graceful, handkerchief dresses and arty jewelry hit the Loewe runway, Jonathan Anderson closed the show with a spectacular chain-mail dress. Comprised of around 6 meters of silver metal chain, the dress weighs between four and six pounds and features hooks in six different sizes. The Loewe team estimated there were 150 of each size, in varying shades of gold, silver, and bronze. The dress took about a week to make—Anderson recruited two interns to help him with the final version—and it’s the only one of its kind. A second version of the dress has never been made.

Gucci Spring ’17 Ready to Wear, Look 52


Gucci may be known for its mix-and-match, irreverent take on luxury, but many of its runway pieces are done with couture-level artistry. Zoom in on this frothy, blush tulle gown from Spring ’17, and you’ll see just how exquisite the embroidery and embellishments are—and the back view is not to be missed, either. Gucci’s team reported that it took 34 days to create the dress, which features two special types of embroidery: Zardosi, a small needle technique, and Aari, a long-needle technique. Glass stones, beads, Lurex cords, and jewel-like embellishments were all hand-applied using those techniques, and on the back of the dress, Elton is spelled out in red Swarovski crystals, Lurex thread, and glass beads. The embroidery is so meticulous, it took four days just to complete the back.

Christian Dior Spring ’17 Ready to Wear, Look 60


For her debut collection at Christian Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri drew inspiration from Monsieur Christian Dior’s love of the tarot; Dior’s team reported that he would ask his clairvoyant for advice before making any big decisions. So Chiuri dedicated a group of sheer, otherworldly gowns to a specific tarot card, from “Le Diable” (The Devil) to “Le Soleil” (The Sun). This dress represents “L’Amoureux,” or “The Lovers,” and depicts a winged heart, gold stars, and two lovers. Every bead and piece on the dress was hand-embroidered, and 10 people were involved in the making of the dress. It took 170 hours total to complete.

Fendi Fall ’16 Couture, Look 46


The models at Fendi’s haute fourrure show in Rome walked on water—literally. There was a Lucite runway between them and the Trevi Fountain, of course, and it helped to highlight the incredible detail in each piece. One dress looked like lace, but was actually Persian lamb with thousands of hand-cut holes. And Bella Hadid closed the show in an enchanting, regal cape comprised of 24 different colors of mink bonded with leather. Fendi’s atelier reported that 10 fur artisans used approximately 5,000 pieces of fur to create the village scene with a mix of workmanships: carved, inlay, and 3-D appliqué. It took them around 1,000 hours total. 

Givenchy Fall ’16 Couture, Look 64


Riccardo Tisci sometimes includes a few Givenchy couture pieces in his menswear shows, and for Spring ’17, Kendall Jenner’s dress-over-pants stood out among the guys. The tongue-in-cheek twist on an evening gown came with 34,600 white Rhodoid beads and 7,500 Swarovski crystals and pearls, all hand-embroidered. According to the atelier, four people spent around 850 hours finishing the piece.

Atelier Versace Fall ’16 Couture, Look 30


Sasha Pivovarova’s dress on the Atelier Versace runway looked like water catching the light. Were those sequins? Lurex thread? Neither—Versace’s couture team explained that those sparkling strips of shimmer were created with Italian thread and Miyuki Japanese glass micro tubes on a base of invisible tulle. Ribbons of Italian organza were then dyed in dégradé from pale blue to pastel pink and arranged in a wavelike pattern. Twenty embroiderers, seamstresses, and designers worked on the dress, which took about 1,200 hours to create and weighs over six pounds.