It’s that time of year again, the fashion shows in Paris—-more precisely the Haute Couture shows, the shows of clothing that are not Ready to Wear, but are made to order stitch by stitch to the exact measurements of the lucky person who can buy them (and afford them). Haute Couture has always been the summit of high fashion, the most elite and exclusive, available to only a select few clients who can afford them. The creations are remarkable, the clothes unforgettable, and the piece de resistance at the end of the show is always a bridal gown. All of the clothes can be ordered and take several months to make, and clients have two or three fittings before they’re finished to make sure that they fit impeccably.
You can’t just show up at either a Ready to Wear or an Haute Couture show in Paris, it is by invitation only. And the invitations are much coveted and sought after. In days gone by, the front row of the Haute Couture shows were lined with famously well dressed women, the wives of Presidents and Captains of Industry, famous movie stars, women who were known to be the best dressed in each of their countries. The women were usually of a certain age, and the clothes designed accordingly. Dressing in haute couture was not a young women’s sport, it was SERIOUS fashion business, an important business, and the women who wore them were known for how well dressed they were. Now, everything has changed. Haute Couture is a dying art, there are only two of the old venerable famous dress houses who still make haute couture: Dior and Chanel. The others are mostly newcomers. And all of the old important haute couture houses have faded away and closed. Haute Couture fashion week lasted a full week, with 5 or 6 important shows a day. Now it takes two days. And the famous women who lined the front row, jotting down notes of what they wanted to order have been replaced by faces most of us don’t know: Chinese movie stars, members of the press or in public relations, people who love fashion but don’t wear haute couture and never will. One sees a few well dressed women with no idea who they are, and a great many people in exaggerated costumes, desperate for attention. And in all fairness, the prices of Designer Ready to Wear now is what Haute Couture, handmade clothes cost 20 years ago, and Haute Couture prices are now out in the stratosphere for incredible embroideries, beautiful fabrics, and clothes that very few people can afford.
The Haute Couture client is now someone completely different. The women who order these clothes now, very few, are usually very young women, accompanied by much older men, who want to dress their mistresses, wives, or girlfriends in such a way as to enhance their own reputation and demonstrate their fortunes and success. So the clothes are now much younger, often too young for the women who might be able to afford them on their own. But they are still lovely to look at, and the show itself is always fabulous.
Chanel holds both its ready to wear and haute couture shows at a beautiful old glass structure called Le Grand Palais (The Big Palace), and Chanel is famous for its incredible, spectacular decors. They literally transform the location into something else: last year a fun supermarket, with the models wearing colorful clothes, ambling down the aisles. Earlier this year, an old Paris Bistro—–once they had an iceberg plopped right in the middle of the stage, it had been flown in from Sweden and was flown back after the show. And in this season’s Fall Haute Couture show, they transformed the Grand Palais into a casino, complete with carpeting with Chanel’s logo and the suits of playing cards. In the center of the room were gaming tables, and well known movie stars and personalities came out, sat down in evening gowns, and began gambling with real croupiers. Among them, Fabulous Julianne Moore looking spectacular!! And then the show began, as the models walked around the gambling area showing off evening suits, day suits, evening gowns, and a gorgeous white satin pant suit at the end as a Very modern bride!!! The casino set the stage for an atmosphere of fun the minute you walked in. Approximately 60 items of clothing are shown, on beautiful models.
Another interesting factor about the shows, is that fashion is always an unusual but fairly accurate barometer of the world economy. Who is there, who can afford to be, who is spending big money on clothes. For several years now, the Russians have dominated the fashion scene as big spending clients, but there were very, very few in evidence at the most recent show. Their economy is suffering and they seem to be tightening the belt where Haute Couture fashion is concerned. The Chinese are allegedly the biggest spenders now, and there were many of them there. In years past, there were always a handful of very chic Italian women, but their economy is hurting, and I have seen no Italians at the shows in recent years, no Germans, a few Austrians, no British, and only a handful of Americans, who used to buy a great deal of Haute Couture, and I saw no Arab women at this season’s show. Beautiful Saudi women used to come in large family groups but I saw none there. Mostly, I saw women who love fashion, and some men, people who simply love to see the exquisite clothes, even if they’re not clients, and those who follow fashion. It is always exciting to go to the shows. They make one dream of bygone days, where we didn’t wear jeans to everything, and a time when a pair of black pants and a black sweater was not considered enough to wear out to dinner. Our lives are more relaxed now, our wardrobes and fashion needs less demanding. But twice a year, it is still a thrill to see the Haute Couture shows, and Chanel hits a home run every time!!!