It’s that time of year again, one of my favorite times in Paris, the first week in July. (The other big early July event is the sales in Paris, with reductions of up to 70% on everything, and some gorgeous things on sale, at fabulous prices. The sales happen every year in January and July). And at the other end of the spectrum, and surely not a bargain, are the Haute Couture fashion shows that I’ve told you about before. When I was a child, and into my young adulthood, the Haute Couture fashion shows were a BIG DEAL in Paris. Even cab drivers talked about them, and the French are very proud of their history in fashion. Haute Couture are beautiful clothes, made to order and entirely made by hand: every stitch!! The seamstresses who make them apprentice for 12 years before they are allowed to work on a garment, and it is a highly respected craft in France, to the point of being considered art. When I was younger, Haute Couture clothes were exquisite, they were expensive, but still within the realm of somewhat accessible. Summer clothes were shown in spectacular fashion shows in January for the following summer, and winter clothes for the coming season were shown in a fashion show in July. The fashion shows are by invitation only, and were always an elite event, wives of Presidents and heads of State went, movie stars and royals. The shows would last for a week by famous designers like Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, and Christian Lacroix, all incredibly talented people. And during Haute Couture week, you would dash from one show to the next, if you were lucky enough to be invited. Hordes of press were there. And about 40 models would saunter down the runway in 75 spectacularly beautiful outfits, always with a bride at the end. It is every little girl’s dream to go to a fashion show like that, see the clothes, dream of being a model, or maybe of wearing clothes like that one day. I loved seeing it as a young girl, was lucky enough to wear some Couture clothes as an adult, and I always took my 5 daughters to see the shows, even when they were children. It engrained in them a deep love for fashion, beautiful workmanship, and incomparable design, and now 3 of them work in fashion.
Today, it is a lost art. Only a handful of women still wear Haute Couture, few can afford them, and the important designers have closed for the most part. Only two are left: Dior and Chanel. Dior has a new designer, and Chanel is designed by an incredibly talented man, Karl Lagerfeld, in his early 80′s now, and still vital and going strong. The clothes are still beautiful, but the prices are exorbitant, and the shows themselves are more PR events by the fashion houses. It costs millions to put on those shows, and it is the maintaining of tradition, and the image of the house, although only a few women will buy the clothes. “Haute Couture Week” is now a 2 day event, with several young designers putting on smaller shows, and the only two big ones left are Dior and Chanel. I still go out of a sense of history and a lifelong love of fashion. When they’re in Paris, I go with my daughters, or with a good friend, and it’s interesting to see it now with my daughters and exchange comments about the show. It’s impossible not to be impressed by how spectacular the shows are, and the settings are dazzling, although it is no longer really about women choosing their next season’s wardrobe of elegant clothes, but more about attending a fabulous spectacle, like a moment of great theater. And it’s a lot of fun to go. But times have changed, lives have changed, even fashionable women spend their days in jeans, life is simpler and more informal, and few people have the kind of lives that require those kinds of clothes. At a guess, I’d say that their clients now are a handful of extremely wealthy women, and many or most of them the very young wives (or mistresses) of much older very successful men. They have the figures to wear the clothes, and the men have the means to pay for them (the evening gowns are in the $200k range in many cases). But it is still a great opportunity to see beautiful clothes (and the men can ogle the models, while the women look at the clothes).
The Dior show was held in a tent specially built for the occasion, to accommodate several thousand people at once. Last year, for their summer show, the collection was shown in a beautiful old building, with a series of rooms, each one ‘wallpapered’ floor to ceiling with live flowers. Each room in a different color, one with all red flowers, one with all blue, a room of white flowers, one of pastel colors. Each room was an incredible feat of decorating with walls of flowers. This year in the tent, as techno music played, the walls of the tent were a screen for a projection of flowers interspersed with photographs and videos of the models. In the large darkened space, the models pounded down the runway in colorful, artistic creations, with a space age feel to them, splashes of color, interesting shapes, new age shoes. I couldn’t see myself wearing it, but it was fascinating to look at, like a form of art, which sometimes fashion is. In the audience were all the important magazine editors, potential buyers, fashion journalists, and people somehow related to fashion. Several thousand of them. It was a beautiful show, and very space age and modern looking, and bore little relation to the Dior creations of years past. This was very, very new looking!!! You can see the shows if you look at Style.com
The following day, I went to the Chanel show with two of my daughters and two friends. It was in the Grand Palais, a beautiful old glass structure, and into it had been built the semblance of a theater. Chanel is known for their spectacular and unusual decors as well as their clothes. And this was no ordinary ‘theater’, it looked like the end of the world had come and gone, with fallen beams, and broken concrete, chunks of concrete and rocks on the ground; it looked like Armageddon, and was the backdrop for the models pounding down the runway in the clothes. The Chanel show had a space age feel to it too, with lots of flash and sparkle, something sparkly on nearly every outfit, even tweeds. Fascinating clothes, make up, hair does, it was a beautiful show with unusual clothes, shown on gorgeous models who crisscrossed throughout the room, so everyone could see the clothes, and across a stage covered with more fallen concrete. It was science fiction, Paris style, and a fun show to watch.
The shows last about forty five minutes, usually start late, and when it’s over, you wander back into the real world, and look around at people in jeans and shorts, Converse and T shirts, and you muse about the clothes you saw and wonder what it would be like to wear them. For those who can afford to buy them, they make appointments to go and see the collection and try it on. And if they order a dress or outfit from the collection, it will be delivered about three months later. And for the rest of us, we wait another six months to see a show just one more time, as we marvel at the beauty of it, the uniqueness, the excitement, and the thrill of being part of the world of fashion, even for a few minutes. It’s exciting to be there, and my daughters and I went out to lunch to talk about it. And no matter how far out, fashion is always fun and exciting!!!!