To keep you abreast of Haute Couture fashion events in Paris, no report on the subject would be complete without telling you about Chanel, which is the leader of the pack in fashion. Designed by the remarkable and legendary Karl Lagerfeld, he is tireless in his energy, innovations, and extraordinary designing skill. (He designs at least four or five ready to wear collections a year for Chanel, two Haute Couture collections, and also designs for Fendi, and his own label, and a sideline and huge talent in photography too.) It makes the head spin to think of all he does, and to see him in all his strength and glory at 80. He is TRULY an icon, and deservedly so.
Haute Couture as you know is a collection of entirely handmade clothes, (EVERY stitch is done by hand, often with remarkable embroidery and beading added, or even feathers woven into the design.) The clothes are phenomenally expensive, because they are handmade, and only a few rare Haute Couture clients still exist, and are able to afford them. Whereas once there were a flock of wealthy American, European and Middle Eastern clients who wore them, today lives have changed, the world is a far more informal place, everyone lives in jeans, and even women with the means, just don’t wear fancy clothes all the time. In every walk of life, and even in our jobs, we all lead more ‘normal’ lives and wear more casual clothes, and there is less opportunity for anyone to wear clothes of that kind. And social conscience and the world economy has changed as well. Prices, even for Haute Couture, used to be more human scale; today buying an item of Haute Couture is a major investment. An evening gown can cost $200,000. And an Haute Couture wedding gown half a million dollars. Traditionally, each Haute Couture fashion show closes with a wedding gown, and they are remarkable creations and works of art.
Mostly, Haute Couture shows are put on now, twice a year, as a sort of PR gesture to show off the skills of the house. But the much larger crowds, movie stars, and wives of Presidents, and celebrities go to the ready to wear shows, so the whole nature of the Haute Couture shows has changed, and there are only 3 left of the important couture houses: Chanel, Dior, and Givenchy, and Givenchy no longer does a fashion show, and exhibits select pieces in their showrooms. In the past, about 75 garments were shown, now it is closer to 50. And at the Chanel show, 50 of the world’s top models wear the clothes as they strut down the runway looking dazzling in that season’s creations. And no question, the show is dazzling. But even how the clothes are shown has changed. Since the audience for the Haute Couture show is smaller, this year, Chanel made their Haute Couture show more intimate, starting in January. Instead of renting an enormous hall, and decorating it (they had an actual iceberg in the middle of the hall at the ready to wear show a few years ago. The iceberg had been flown in from Sweden, and was taken back to its natural habitat the day after the show). This past January, as I told you, the Chanel Haute Couture show was held in a much smaller space, and the entire setting was made to look like the inside of an airplane, with clouds going past the windows, and ‘attendants’ rolling between the seats with carts of champagne and snacks. This time the show had a kind of garden party feeling, with white wicker furniture arranged in small intimate groups for 4 to 6 people, so one could sit comfortably and watch the show. It was upstairs at the Grand Palais, a beautiful glass historical structure, and it had a far more relaxed feeling, and unfortunately there was a tray of delicious cookies on the table between the seats, and before the show even started, I had ravaged the plate of cookies!!! Yum!! The relaxed setting put everyone at ease, and dispelled some of the tension often evident at those shows. It reduced the tension to enthusiastic excitement, which was nice. And nowadays the settings, as part of the PR for the house, cost several million dollars. (An enormous gold lion one year, that the models walked out of a kind of volcanic setting at the last ready to wear show, the wall to wall flowers at this week’s Dior show. They used a million flowers in their decor, and I can only imagine what that cost).
So happily settled into a wicker chair, in a cozy group with two of my daughters, and munching cookies, we watched the beautiful Chanel Haute Couture show, and the clothes were really lovely. There was a lot of pink, combinations of pink and gray, a lot of soft looking tweeds and plaids in muted colors. It didn’t introduce anything shocking and different, and mostly showcased the typical elegance of Chanel, on beautiful models, in a range of daytime clothes to evening wear. And at the end, a predictably spectacular wedding gown, which was a HUGE bell shape, all covered in tiny white feathers, with a matching jacket covering the top, and a pink bow at the back of the waist. It was beautiful and whimsical, a fairy tale bridal gown, that showed all the skills of the house, and must cost a fortune to order. (Prices are strictly upon request, and would undoubtedly take our breath away. There are no price tags hanging off the dresses. And everything is made to order. Some houses used to sell the samples, at also very high prices, but less, and a few still do, although Chanel keeps a museum of many of their clothes from each season, and most of the samples go into the museum, or their archives, so the runway samples are not available.). Seeing the show was a wonderful experience as always. It was fun to see it, and always exciting to be part of the buzz around the shows. I’ve been attending them since I was in my teens. In France, fashion is considered an art form, everyone is fascinated and excited by it, even people who will never wear it or see it. And I always feel very lucky and privileged to see those shows every year. I took my daughters to the shows when they were little, and three of them wound up pursuing careers in fashion as a result. It is a magical world, although a very tough one to work in. And the Chanel Haute Couture show (showing winter clothes for the coming season) was no different: a remarkable experience, admiring the work of a supremely talented designer, for an enormously respected house. It is like watching (fashion) history roll out in front of you as you see those shows. It was absolutely wonderful!!!