Fashion Week in Paris

When my kids were small, I used to take all 5 of my daughters to the Haute Couture fashion shows in Paris, which were spectacular shows of beautiful clothes, all hand made and hand sewn, worn by gorgeous models in extraordinary venues. The shows were a major event twice a year, and haute couture is almost a lost art now. Many of the most important designers have disappeared. Hubert de Givenchy retired many years ago, although there is couture done by Givenchy now, but it’s young and modern and nothing like what Mr. de Givenchy did. The house of Balmain no longer does Haute Couture. Yves Saint Laurent has closed its couture doors forever. Dior is now designed by John Galliano, who is enormously talented, but the clothes are very different from what the house of Dior made in the old days, times have changed. Valentino also stopped doing couture, and Mr. Valentino retired. I only go to two of those Haute Couture shows now, twice a year (in January and July), I go to Lacroix and Chanel, just to see the beauty and artistry of it. And the whole world of haute couture has changed. It has become a dying art.

As an interesting side bar, fashion has always been a major industry and fascination in France, and a source of great pride to the French. First Ladies go to watch the shows, and movie stars. Even cab drivers know about it, and years ago, if you took a taxi somewhere during Haute Couture week, the driver would ask you how the show was, or if you had been to any. (What New York cab driver knows about fashion, or cares?)

Well, times have changed, and the tables have turned. Whereas the Haute Couture world has dwindled—-a rarefied world at best, with fashion shows attended by elegant women and celebrities from around the world, and handmade clothes sold at enormous prices—–now all eyes are turned to the ready to wear market, a booming industry. And today ‘fashion week’ refers to the week twice a year when American designers put on fashion shows in New York, attended by store buyers, mobs of media, fashion magazine editors, movie stars, celebrities, rappers,—the shows are to exhibit what each designer will be selling for the next season. It is a huge event in New York, attended by people in the fashion industry from around the world. There is an equally important week in London, for British designers, one in Milan, and another fashion week in Paris. Each one is a major event with impressive shows, fabulous clothes, and the fashion trends for the next season are set, it is a major industry event, with a good showing of celebrities who attend as well.

And turn about is fair play. I took all five of my ‘little girls’ to the haute couture shows when they were growing up, just so they could see it. And now my ‘big girls’ took me to the Paris ready to wear shows. It is a whole different world, and I had a ball seeing it with them. Three of my daughters are in fashion (in styling, and one is a fashion editor of a magazine), so they attend these shows every season, in Paris and New York, and one of them goes to the Milan shows as well. And I joined them in Paris for some of these shows. It was fascinating and exciting, and especially fun to see the shows with them.

Each show I saw with them had a different flavor. Each show was beautiful, but entirely separate and distinct from each other. The shows are held in very different locations around Paris, some easily accessible, some hard to get to. Each show is attended by members of the fashion press from around the world. You hear every imaginable language around you, French, English, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish, Japanese, and others. And the crowd is just as varied. Many are store buyers, probably the majority are press, some famous faces and some real characters (a lot of multi colored hair—none of it in human colors, unless purple and green are now considered natural hair colors). There are some very chic people, and some totally wild ones. Men and women attend the shows in equal numbers, and most are wearing the latest fashion trends, or their own version thereof. It is definitely a ‘scene’. The models who wear the clothes are beautiful, and the current look is ‘alien’ apparently, with very white face make up, and blank expressions as they walk robotically down the runway, almost like very stylish machines. The whole scene is definitely a WOW!!!!

The first show I went to was Givenchy. The clothes were beautiful, as were the models, and it was held in a ramshackle old building (a warehouse maybe?) in an arty neighbourhood called the Marais. There was a single entry door at the entrance, and it was a very small door, while outside roughly a thousand people stood in the pouring rain for half an hour waiting to get in. And then, magically, the door opened, and with a single surge, everyone pushed toward the door, shoving and jostling (despite assigned seating once inside). The sidewalk was cracked and uneven (and stupidly, I was wearing high heels), people were anxious and excited, and it had the atmosphere of a mob scene, and I kept thinking of British soccer matches where people had been trampled in the stands. It was scary for a minute, and then finally we were all in, and found our seats. It was another hour’s wait until the show began, and well worth the wait, and even the pushing and shoving outside. It was a great show, and an exciting event, and I loved sitting there with two of my daughters. I felt as though we had come full circle, and now they were taking me to this very new event for me (just as I took them to fashion shows when they were 6 and 7 and 8 and it was all new and exciting for them!!).

The second show I saw with one of my daughters, and it was Yves Saint Laurent, held at a modern art museum (the Palais Tokio), near the Eiffel Tower. We walked up a flight of marble steps, took our seats calmly, and a short time later, the show began. The clothes were beautiful and elegant (and I even saw a blouse and jumpsuit I wanted!!). It was a very elegant show.

The next show we saw was Chanel, which bowled me over. It was held in the Grand Palais, a spectacular building that was recently renovated with an exquisitely domed glass roof and the whole building is glass. It is a remarkable place, and enormous. As they do for their couture shows too, Chanel had gone all out with a black and white stage and set design, impeccably assigned seating, and the show started with military precision, and what a show it was!! Mostly black and white clothes, with some pink, and grassy green accents, hats, fun jewelry, great leggings (pink wool!!), stockings, suits, gorgeous outfits put together exquisitely as the models walked on and off the runway to the music, and there were four men in this show as well as the female models. The whole thing had a fabulous look.

We went to the Vuitton show too, which was beautiful and striking (designed by Marc Jacobs), it was in a see-through tent in one of the back courtyards of the Louvre Museum, another impressive venue, and a beautiful show.

And the last show I went to was Miu Miu, which had a whole different flavor. Conveniently, it was two blocks from where I live in Paris. It was in a beautiful old house, and waiters offered drinks and chocolates when we arrived, and then headed up an elegant marble staircase into a series of rooms that had been set up with curved rows of folding chairs covered in brocade, where the models walked between us (once again in beautiful clothes) within a few inches of our knees. It had a less formal feel than the other shows, and was a fitting end for my varied experiences of ‘fashion week’. After the show, one of my daughters and I walked home, to our own house, and took off our own ‘stylish gear’ (because you have to look good at those shows too, and the press photographed us a lot in the audience or as we arrived). I put on my jeans and thought about the shows we had been to, and all the fun we had. My daughters went to far more shows than I did, but they took me to the ones they thought I would enjoy, and I certainly did!!! It was an unforgettable week!!

The last fashion show was Miu Miu on Thursday. (Some people go to as many as 8 shows a day during fashion week in New York, mostly store buyers and magazine editors, and probably nearly as many in Paris. There are a LOT of ready to wear designers!!). We went out to dinner that night, and you could feel everyone exhale. The mad dash from show to show was over, concentrating on what each show was like, who you saw there, and the clothes on the runway. And much to my chagrin, at 7:30 the next morning, both of my daughters left to fly back to Los Angeles and New York. Now the apartment is very quiet. The glamorous week is over, although I loved it. And I feel very much like Cinderella after the ball. There’s no runway, no models, no beautiful clothes, no photographers, the excitement is over, my daughters are thousands of miles away. I wore jeans and an old sweater today, went to my favorite auction house in Paris, bought groceries, and came home, and I had no one to talk to and laugh with about what we saw today. It was a fascinating week, and I feel privileged to have seen it with them. And just like Brigadoon in the mists, or a magical dream… week has disappeared…..until next time. I hope the girls take me to the next one too!!

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8 Comments so far
  1. marienicole April 25, 2009 2:51 pm

    je vous salue madame,

    Ce beau texte (vous auriez fait une merveilleuse journaliste de mode) me rappelle cette édition de vos livres qui présente toujours une photo de vous élégamment vêtue au dos du volume…ça ausssi c était un très beau fashion show et je m évertuais toujours à trouver un lien subtil avec la trame du roman…

    Quelle belle relation à vos filles…

    Marienicole de Montréal un peu le Paris d amérique du nord sans tour Eiffel mais avec de très bon designers tout de même 😉

  2. kimmi April 25, 2009 6:47 pm

    Thank you, Ms. Steel, for sharing–letting us be there through your eyes. Lovely.

  3. Kathryn Magendie April 27, 2009 5:10 pm


  4. Juli April 27, 2009 10:29 pm

    Thank you!! I felt like I was there… 🙂 I can really feel the sadness of you missing your girls. xoxooxox

  5. Bettye Thomas April 29, 2009 11:06 pm

    Hello. I have loved your books for years and have been reading your blog for awhile. However, this is my first comment. I enjoy so much hearing your stories about your life and about your children especially your daughters. I feel your pain of not seeing them as much as you would like. You see my daughter finished graduate school here in the south and moved (four suitcases and a bike by plane) to your lovely city of San Francisco. I miss her terribly, but I always encouraged her to go and see and do while she was young and to enjoy every minute of the experience. She is doing just that, too. She lives a couple blocks south of LaFayette Park which she tells me is very near your lovely SF home. Best Wishes to you, Danielle. Have loads of fun in Paris and keep those wonderful books coming. I just reread “The House” which of course is in SF.

  6. Geraldine July 11, 2009 1:48 pm

    Thank you for these! Fashion is very individual, and in each one of us there is an innate sense of great style! I don’t study fashion magazines, I don’t go to fashion shows, but I have the classic looks down to a tee. i just find it all so much fun doing it myself! Fashion is simply about confidence , taking care of oneself, a great eye for colour and contours, and basic common sense! I don’t follow fashion “trends,” we must not be sheep when it comes to fashion….fashion is within us!

  7. Megamind November 12, 2010 8:04 am

    Great blog! I truly love how it’s easy on my eyes and the details are well written. I am wondering how I could be notified whenever a new post has been made. I have subscribed to your rss feed which ought to do the trick! Have a nice day!

  8. Sebastian December 8, 2011 6:00 pm

    I just HAVE to clarify to everyone, including Mrs. Steel, with all due respect and if you permit, that although Mr. Valentino Garavani, the genious, has indeed retired, the Valentino Fashion House still does Haute Couture during Couture Fashion Week in Paris twice a year, and frankly the VALENTINO house does some of the most extraordinary haute couture collections out of the 6 or seven houses that legally participate in Couture Fashion Week.

    Thank You Very Much.