I hope all is well with you!! I had a fun week last week, saw friends, went to a movie premiere of a film produced by a friend, about an in-school project, trying to discourage racial and religious discrimination among school age children. A really worthy subject, particularly in France, given the current tensions. One of my daughters had to work in Paris for a week, and as always, I really enjoyed her company, as I do all my children. She was busy, but it’s always nice seeing my kids coming and going out of my home, and living under the same roof with me, although it’s never for long enough!!! But I’m grateful for the time I get, and we managed to have dinner together twice.
The Big Event in Paris last week was Haute Couture week, which is only a 3 day event now. I’ve mentioned to you before that it used to be an entire week of fashion shows by important designers, running from one show to the next to see fabulous clothes modelled on the runway. Now there are only two important haute couture houses left: Dior and Chanel, and a handful of less known designers. And one very glamourous one: Elie Saab who makes beautiful sexy evening gowns, but since I don’t wear them and don’t have a life that requires them, I’ve never gone to their show. I wear less elaborate clothes, that I can wear in the daytime, or for an informal dinner out. I have a closet full of evening gowns that I never, or rarely, wear anymore, and am saving them for my daughters. Some are quite beautiful, and are even museum pieces, made by designers who either don’t do them anymore, or are no longer alive. Most of what I’ve saved, of haute couture, is by Dior, Givenchy, Balmain (when it was still a couture house), and Chanel. They are gorgeous clothes for daytime and evening, by remarkable designers, who were really great artists. Hubert de Givenchy, who is still alive though retired, and a cherished friend—-designed Audrey Hepburn’s private wardrobe, and for all her films. He is the last truly great gentleman and an amazing man, with unlimited talent. At the time when I bought a lot of Christian Dior Haute Couture, it was designed by Gianfranco Ferre, an Italian designer, who was replaced by John Galliano (British). I used to buy a lot of Balmain Haute Couture (and still have all of it, and the clothes by Dior), when it was designed by Oscar de la Renta, who eventually retired from Balmain to continue his own brand, and died last year, much to my sorrow. And Chanel ready to wear and Haute Couture is designed by Karl Lagerfeld (he’s German), he is a powerhouse of creative genius and astounding energy, and still designs for three brands at eighty five. The extent and level of his talent is amazing and dazzling. He is constantly ahead of his time, and sets the fashions. His ready to wear shows are the biggest in fashion, presenting more looks than anyone else (Over 100 each time, most designers show about 30 looks now). One interesting side bar is that I bought Haute Couture over many years, for a long time. My grandmother bought it for me when I married in my teens. My mother in law very generously gave me some pieces when I was married to her son. And once I ‘grew up’ and became successful I bought it for myself, and sometimes even a lot of it. But the prices then (and not that long ago) were the same or less than what ready to wear clothes cost now. The price of Haute Couture today is enormous, and nothing like the more reasonable prices of a decade or two ago. And designers I knew well sometimes sold me samples, with evening gowns that were exquisite for less than a ready to wear wool jacket or coat would cost today. Much of what is shown on the runway in Haute Couture shows now is never made. It is simply part of the show and ‘spectacle’, as publicity for the house that made them. There are very few buyers for Haute Couture today, due to the more casual lifestyle now, and with the high prices, there are far fewer people around the world who can afford it. But for me, it has always been a form of art. I studied fashion design at Parsons in New York, and it’s a thrill to see an haute couture show even if I don’t buy it. It is a true art form, and in a way the summit of fashion.
The simplest way to explain the difference between Haute Couture and Ready-to Wear is that every single stitch in a piece of Haute Couture clothing is handmade. There is not a single machine stitch anywhere, the fabrics are exquisite, and there is often a lot of embroidery or beading on the pieces. But all of it, every stitch, every button, every sequin, is sewn by hand. The clothes you see on the runway are samples, and must be ordered, and take months to make, all by hand. Before they are finished, a client will have several fittings to make sure they fit her perfectly. Buying a piece of haute couture is an amazing experience. And most of the samples shown on the runway now will go to museums, or the designer’s archives. In contrast, what you see in a Ready to Wear fashion show are samples of clothes that will be made and mass produced (by machine, not hand) and sold in stores. The ready to wear shows are for store buyers and the press, so that the stores can order them for the next season, and the press can write about what’s coming. Whether ready to wear or haute couture, you are seeing clothes for the next season, in winter you see spring clothes, and in summer, you see winter clothes. And it’s always exciting to see what’s coming.
Chanel is famous for the fabulous settings they show the clothes in. They hold both their ready to wear and couture shows at The Grand Palais in Paris, a Victorian glass structure that looks a bit like an ice palace. And Chanel transforms it into a magical setting every time. The setting is designed by Peter Marino, who wears head to foot black leather, and goes to every show himself. His settings for the shows are absolutely extraordinary, as exciting as the clothes themselves. Last year, he held one show in a mock supermarket that was really fun and very creative. Also, he did one show in an old Paris ‘restaurant’ that he created, complete with waiters, as the models filed past them. His most remarkable one was several years ago, when he flew in an iceberg from Sweden which sat in the middle of the show, and was flown back to Sweden afterwards. He did one show in what looked like the inside of an airplane, where everyone was seated in airplane seating. And another that looked like landing on the barren surface of the moon, with sand and jagged rocks all around us.
Today, the theme of the show was Asian, Japanese. There was an instantly peaceful feeling to it as we walked in. (I usually go with a friend. He checks out the models, while I admire the clothes. Great teamwork!! And we both have fun. And it’s fun to have someone to talk to about the show. I used to take all my children when they were young—-and as a result, three of my daughters now work in fashion. It’s a family passion, or at least among my girls!!) As you walked into the show last week, there was a very Japanese looking structure with no windows, sitting in a field of grass, with a wooden path leading all around it. The models emerged from the structure when the show began (with Techno music playing) and walked around the room on the wooden path, so everyone could see the clothes (sitting on wooden bleachers in 4 rows). The models look very serious and never smile, their hair was up (all with the same hairdo) and the make up looked Japanese. The clothes were beautiful and elegant, with a lot of beading and sparkle to a lot of it. The lengths were all mid-calf, and the clothes were truly beautiful. And there is ALWAYS a bride at the end of every haute couture show (never at the ready to wear shows, no bride there). And after the bride, all the models reappear in what they were wearing (40 or 50 of them), and Karl Lagerfeld, the magician of it all, comes out to take a bow. He has snowy white hair he wears in a pony tail with a black ribbon, wears high collars and tail coats, and looks remarkable. At the end of the show, the Japanese structure suddenly opened, and on all 3 floors of it, all the models were standing, showing a last glimpse of the clothes. It was a truly fabulous show with gorgeous clothes. The entire show takes about 45 minutes, and it’s very exciting being there. Movie stars often go, and Gwyneth Paltrow was there. And a number of young Chinese movie stars I didn’t know.
As an interesting side note, due to the recent attacks in Paris, security was very tight at the show. You can’t just decide to go to ready to wear or Couture, you have to be invited, and every seat is numbered with a name on it. And this time, there were SWAT teams outside with bomb-sniffing dogs; they had Rottweilers that looked impressive. Metal detectors, a handbag search, and you needed photo ID AND your invitation to get in. All much tighter and more serious than usual.
Also, people who go to the show try to wear clothes by the designer of the clothes being shown, if possible. So there were LOTS of women wearing Chanel. And I usually do too. I broke with tradition this time, the show is at noon, and I wore tall black boots, black pants, a black sweater (which I wear a lot of the time anyway), and a wild coat of many colors that looks like it has Graffiti all over it, by Moschino. (I still wear some of my old haute couture pieces and they still look wonderful. Sometimes I’ll wear a jacket with jeans, or a coat) It was so much fun being there, it always is. There are hundreds of press to photograph the audience as well. It’s an enormous treat to be there, and I still enjoy the shows as much as I did at 15. It’s a wonderful tradition, and haute couture is a dying art. It’s a privilege to be there. And I enjoy the ready to wear shows too…..so that’s the Paris fashion report!!! Have a great week!!
much love, Danielle