Paris couture shows start with Christian Dior holding catwalk show and party at royal chateau of Versailles

The Paris haute couture shows kicked off Monday with Christian Dior holding a celebrity-studded catwalk show and party at the royal chateau of Versailles to celebrate its 60th anniversary.

Hollywood stars including Charlize Theron, Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba were on hand for the event in the 300-year-old orangery of the castle that was home to France's Sun King, Louis XIV.

"It's amazing, it's like a dream come true. I can't even believe the grounds and this castle. It's extraordinary," Alba told The Associated Press.

Stars of the supermodel era, including Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista, paraded in sumptuous evening gowns and 1940s-style tailored skirtsuits inspired by the works of master painters ranging from Leonardo da Vinci to Pablo Picasso, drawing a rare standing ovation for Dior's designer, John Galliano.

Flamenco singers performed in homage to Galliano's Spanish roots. He was born in Gibraltar - a disputed British colony claimed by Spain - but raised in Britain.

After the show, guests ate paella in Arab-style tents set up in the garden of the castle.

Dior shocked fashion editors when he unveiled his "New Look" in 1947, featuring ample skirts that used acres of fabric, in stark contrast with the rationing in force during World War II.

Though Dior died prematurely in 1957 at the age of 52, his house has gone from strength to strength under a succession of designers, including Yves Saint Laurent, Gianfranco Ferre and Galliano. Galliano, the British rebel who once showed outfits inspired by homeless people, this year celebrates his 10th year at the house.

The Dior party was only the first in a series of glittering events marking important milestones this season.

French designer Christian Lacroix on Tuesday celebrates the 20th anniversary of his label with a catwalk show, followed by a party at the trendy Paris restaurant Georges.

Italian couturier Valentino Garavani, not to be outdone, moved his presentation from Paris to Rome, where he planned to hold three days of events marking the 45th anniversary of his brand.

Other couture houses showing this week included Giorgio Armani, Elie Saab and Jean Paul Gaultier. The parties come at a time when haute couture is thriving once more, thanks to an influx of newly wealthy customers from Eastern Europe and Asia.

Unlike mass market ready-to-wear, couture outfits are made to measure by seamstresses and craftspeople who toil in cramped workshops, using techniques handed down from generation to generation and century-old tools.

Only a handful of houses are authorized to use the couture tag, which comes with a strict set of guidelines fixed by the French government. But high costs in recent years have led labels including Emanuel Ungaro and Balmain to close their couture workshops.

The price of dresses, which take hundreds of hours to complete, can climb into six figures.

Nonetheless, leading purveyors including Chanel, Lacroix and Dior have reported strong double-digit growth in sales in recent months, reflecting a similar trend in the markets for fine jewelry, art and private yachts.

With so many candles being blown this week, the major worry facing fashion conglomerates is the age of its designers.

Chanel maestro Karl Lagerfeld is officially 68, though some reports place his real age at 73. Valentino is 75, and Armani will turn 73 this month.

They all have said, however, they have no intention of retiring.