The astonishing aspect of haute couture, a term referring to fashions created in the grand couture houses of Paris, is that it is a mesmerizing showcase of ultra fashion indulgences that brings entertainment to the forefront of the world runways. Charles Frederick Worth, the founder of the first Parisian couture house, and the House of Worth itself no longer exists, but the great man himself, Worth, set the stage for fashion and its celebrity. He ruled over his clients like a dictator guru and swathed them in rich fabrics and draperies in the crinoline of the day. Fashions a la couture were and still are an astronomical commodity and in order for a couture house to survive a rich client base is mandatory. Yet despite the economic crisis demand for couture is steady and the coffers of the couture are fueled by a new wave of rich customers; Russian, Chinese and Brazilian women who want one-of-a-kind clothes and are willing to pay $10,000 to $100,000, depending on the embellishments.
HAUTE COUTURE FOR THE MASSES? So why is haute couture a mainstay on the stage of fashion? One standout reason is that many designers are peddling their brand today to the mass market and the cheap chic brands are giving couture a new lease on life through marketing and publicity. At the same time marketers are hoping that women will eventually graduate to high-end fashion. Couture is something to be coveted. I remember working at the House of Guy LaRoche in Paris and although I expected to be paid in cash instead I was given a couture dress in a sort of barter arrangement. Not a bad deal for me. I discovered that once you put on a couture garment something inexplicable happens to you. You instantly rise to the demands of the design, holding your head high and feeling fashion confidant in your new garment you have vicariously ascended to the heights of fashion authority. In short you feel very much the princess or queen that you are. The fabric is exceptional, the workmanship, the fine lining and just the way the garment complements your body makes you feel exceptional, all because you are wearing the “derniere cri de la mode.”
THE HIGH COST OF HAUTE FASHION Upon observation we must consider that the exorbitant cost of a fashion has a lot to do with the fact that each garment is a one-of-a-kind, made-to-measure garment that has been stitched inch-by-inch by the couture house’s atelier seamstresses for a specific customer. Although the designers, top-of-the-fame houses Christian Dior, Chanel and Atelier Versace get full credit for the design, it is these time honored seamstresses who labor for hours, days, sometimes months behind the scenes and who actually give birth to the design working the best of their craft to create a garment of exquisite beauty. Today the same traditions continue and the red-carpet-ready fashion goes on with amazing venues and in-house fashion shows for the rich cognoscenti who covet wearing couture to distinguish themselves and their lifestyle.
SETTING THE STAGE OF FASHION You cannot fully image how spectacular some of these fashion show venues, produced for the elite press and rich couture customers, garner press coverage and collectively capture the attention of women worldwide. Show Biz is at the core of some of these productions. Case in point: recently Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel couture collection, spring 2012, called Jet Blue, took to the runways in more ways than usual in the Grand Palais with a jumbo airplane installation and seating for 250 select fashionistas. The double-C monogrammed carpet and swank cocktail bar cart suggested that we could fly away in the chic trappings of this elegant version of air travel. Lagerfeld, the master of his craft did not disappoint. The clothes were like a blue symphony in a monochromatic rainbow of blues, many of the styles were embellished with shimmering sequins, crystals and bugle beads, perhaps set by at the House of Lesage, the preeminent embroiders to the couture trade. Despite the entertainment the fashions were the main event with a lean, straight silhouette for daytime wear. However, the mood was young and transparent for evening with ingénue organza dresses flirting with hand applied flowers at one shoulder and fluttering like billowing butterflies on skirts. On other creations exquisite embroidery shimmered in delicate blues. The collection was a skyrocketing success and Lagerfeld emerged from the cockpit to take his bow. Now, that spectacular venue is worthy of a Broadway production.
CELEBRITY FRONT ROWS Couture fashion shows and celebrity front rows take to the newspaper headlines and red carpet appearances of movie stars wearing couture gowns give the couture new impetus to maintain their position of excellence. When Angelina Jolie and Nicole Kidman wore couture to the Golden Globe Awards that pumps up the image of couture. But remember, these ladies probably borrowed the gowns for that occasion and the couture house gains by the publicity. Couture is an experimental fashion laboratory where designers can test out new techniques. At Dior crocodile skin was cut up and re-embroidered onto organza and Donatella Versace used PVC to made 3D flowers on her dresses. Such feats of fashion innovation, all created painstakingly by hours of hand application are difficult to translate into ready-to-wear lines but they are the source of inspiration and practical application.
WHO CAN AFFORD COUTURE? Don’t fret if you’re not counted among the fashion cognoscenti with deep pockets, who can afford the over-the-top couture fashion prices. More accessibly priced products are available through the couture house’s accessories collection; signature scarves, handbags, wallets, costume jewelry, shoes and millinery. The allure of owning a couture item also draws in wannabee couture customers to the sunglass, eyeglass, perfume, luggage and even home furnishings collections, which in most cases, though pricey, are more affordable for thee and me.
VIVA HAUTE COUTURE!!! IT’S A MAINSTAY IN THE FASHION WORLD, A COMPELLING LURE FOR THE LADIES WHO LUNCH AND RICH FASHIONISTAS WORLDWIDE. COUTURE TITILLATES THE IMAGINATION, IT SERVES AS INSPIRATION AND IN ITS FINEST HOUR IT IS THE GREATEST SHOW IN THE FASHION GALAXY.