I’ve talked to you before about the fashion shows we go to in Paris. My three daughters who work in fashion introduced me to the excitement of the Ready to Wear shows in Paris this spring, which was new for me. And they were certainly fun, and hectic and exciting, and very different from the fashion shows I know. The shows I have gone to since I was a very young girl are the Haute Couture shows, which is a dying art. Twenty, even ten years ago, there were many ‘haute couture’ houses (Givenchy, Balmain, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, and many more.) All of those houses also have ready to wear brands which are sold in stores, but couture clothes are custom made, special ordered, hand made creations which are a form of art. Each stitch must be hand made, not a single stitch can be by machine, and in grander days of a bygone era, wealthy women ordered these clothes twice a year. It was rare and special, and the clothes were exquisite. There are also famous couture designers who disappeared years ago but are still remembered, (Schiaparelli, Madame Gres, Poiret, and the early days of Balenciaga, when it was couture, not ready to wear as it is today. Since I went to Parsons School of Design, I have always been fascinated by these designers and their exquisite creations).
Even ten years ago, “Couture Week” in Paris was a mad scramble from one show to another, with two or three a day, and aficionados didn’t want to miss a single show. Seats were reserved, and invitations to the shows were hard to come by and only for the elite. Presidents’ wives from many countries, royalty, and major movie stars attended the shows, and it was breathtaking just to be there, as 60 or 70 outfits came down the runway on famous models. For most, owning one of those dresses was only a dream. And seeing it all was a treat in itself.
Because I have always been fascinated by fashion, particularly French Haute Couture, I took my 5 daughters to see those shows when they were children, just so they could see the clothes and enjoy the atmosphere. And three of them went into fashion as a career as a result. Today, it’s a dying world. Almost all the big couture houses have closed. Givenchy still does haute couture, but no longer by Mr. Givenchy, who is an absolutely extraordinary man. Yves St Laurent stopped doing haute couture a few years ago, before he died. John Galliano does Dior’s haute couture (and ready to wear), and has turned the clothes and the fashion show into more of a theatrical spectacle than the old days of haute couture, when women created whole wardrobes from those clothes. Balmain, another venerable old house, stopped doing haute couture when Oscar de la Renta stopped designing it for them. And Balmain now does spectacular ready to wear instead. The only two original couture houses left now are Christian Lacroix, and Chanel, which is designed by Karl Lagerfeld. There are a number of young new designers starting out, but I’m a traditionalist and love the old school of haute couture. So now instead of a week of shows, there are only 3 days, and I only attend two shows (on the same day), Lacroix and Chanel.
And this was a historic year. Just before the fashion show, Christian Lacroix announced that they would be closing their doors, a piece of news that rocked the fashion world. His designs are spectacular, theatrical, intricate, and a wonder to behold. So as it turned out, the show I went to was his last one, and I attended with two of my daughters. It was a momentous event for anyone who follows fashion. The show was beautiful, and the clothes more wonderful than ever, and as is traditional, Mr. Lacroix came down the runway at the end of the show, to thundering applause. (It was held at the museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, a beautiful old building). It was an emotional moment, as Christian Lacroix came down the aisle for the last time. It was a historical moment in fashion, and a sign of the times. Haute Couture is a symbol of another era, a different time, and no longer fits with our current more down to earth lives, in sneakers and jeans. I’m grateful that I have seen these shows for so many years, and my daughters say they are too to have seen something which has truly become a lost art. Now Chanel stands alone as the last of the old haute couture houses (but with elegant yet modern clothes). And with the disappearance of Lacroix, it has become an even more rarefied art form. Haute Couture were clothes that truly made one dream. And I was so touched to have seen Christian Lacroix’s last show. There are rumors in Paris that someone might buy his couture house, but no one really knows. I certainly hope so for him, and for all of us who appreciate what he does. But whatever happens, it has certainly become a lost art. And how lucky we have been to see these beautiful clothes at all. And it’s always fun seeing these shows.