“I don't understand how a woman can leave the house without fixing herself up a little – if only out of politeness. And then, you never know, maybe that's the day she has a date with destiny. And it's best to be as pretty as possible for destiny.” – Gabrielle Avant Coco Chanel
WE’RE used to seeing the grandest of sets from Mr Lagerfeld when it comes to aChanel show (his supermarket sweep for ready-to-wear being one of his most memorable yet), but today this was all pared right back down for a space in the Grand Palais that was simply a white room accompanied by a virtual fireplace and a glass mirror over its mantelpiece.
But it was the ideal setting when it came to showing off Lagerfeld’s skills – this is a designer who is at his best when he does something very glamorous and slightly historical. So he gave us his Artful Dodger best for a collection that presented beautiful urchin girls who brought his 18th Century references (most noted in the regal embroidery of many a frock coat) right up to date with ribbon-tie flip-flop flats in place of last season’s couture trainers.
The girls took to the catwalk with quiffs and caps on the back of their heads and short pantaloons, which even came worn under little short suits and coats – this was a couture riff on a Charles Dickens classic from start to finish.
Everything was intricately embroidered or boasted sequins or crystals – across bodices, or jackets, smatterings of gold climbing up hems or clustering at collars, dancing around necklines and straps. The level of fabrication perfectly showed off the special couture skills that this house has at its disposal and it was a delight to see on display.
For cocktail attire there came a strong focus on trapeze shapes, gentle A-lines for skirts and dresses that spanned a palette of smoky greys (mimicked also in the make-up tones), off-white, pale gold, navy and black. Bags were like satchels and though used sparingly made for another clever modern note.
And while there won’t be a woman out there who wouldn’t not dream of stepping out in one of those serious gowns to end, we can’t help but know the real story here will end up being those flip-flop-style flats. Comfortable couture.
IT is couture week in Paris and I’m straining my ears, stooped behind an ornate screen in nothing but a pair of “couture knickers”. We are at the Valentinoheadquarters and sunlight is creeping through the windows of a very private room. I say “we” because, on the other side of the screen, an elusive woman whom I will never meet (one of that most rarefied of creatures, the couture customer) is being helped into a gown – I can hear her gasping and cooing. From what I can gather she likes what she sees, but even in the event she didn’t, these things could be dealt with. Behind me, dressed in a sombre uniform of black blouse and trousers, a petite woman named Antonietta deftly buttons me into a sheer floor-length dress with delicate golden ears of corn woven into the lace.
You might think a dress with a train suitable only for weddings. But according to Valentino, you’d be wrong. This particular garment is light as a feather and fits like a glove – a very expensive, floor-length glove. I, too, begin to coo and squeal spontaneously as the last button is fastened, unlocking my home screen and urging my new acquaintance to capture the moment on my camera phone. Antonietta, it transpires, may be capable of stitching together a painstaking work of art but an iPhone in her hands is a very alien concept; she blankly eyeballs the gadget for a few seconds before promptly thrusting it back in my direction. This behaviour is to be expected of someone who exists in the discreet, archaic world of couture, a world in which oversharing and Instagram have no place.
Despite its fusty reputation, and the age-old debate as to whether couture is still relevant in a modern, economically unstable world, this most luxuriously extravagant mode of dressmaking continues to surprise and inspire. And in recent years it has become a booming business once more – due, in large part, to the emergence of a new breed of young women prepared to spend their (hard-earned?) money on custom-made, hand-sewn, one-of-a-kind pieces of clothing. As Amanda Harlech, the feline muse and confidante to Karl Lagerfeld, observes: “As the high street snaps at the heels of ready-to-wear, and the internet allows us to ‘get the look’ instantly, so haute couture has become even more important.”
For women keen to dodge the Boxing Day sales, or the embarrassment of wearing the same dress as a friend to dinner, or perhaps the guilt of not knowing whether the people crafting your clothes have really been paid for their efforts, haute couture is a way of life. Literally meaning “high dressmaking”, the term rolls delectably around the mouths of the very fashionable (or, more precisely, the very rich). With couture, money can buy you style. And anonymity – the identities of who exactly might be investing in these exclusive designs, and how much they pay for them, are closely guarded secrets. The clients are so private, in fact, that often even the designers aren’t invited to meet them – an odd paradox among star designers accustomed to dealing with a world so desperate for their merchandise that most of us at some point have paid a hefty sum just to have their names emblazoned on a handbag.
“Sometimes they don’t want to see me,” Raf Simons deadpans as we navigate our way through a maze of grey-carpeted corridors that make up the offices of Dior in Paris. It’s the day after the Dior couture show and we are lost. “It’s not about me,” he explains of his relationship with his clients, “it’s about their privacy – and that’s also the beauty of couture.” He finally locates the right door and pushes it open to reveal his latest, masterful, bright collection inspired by global culture. It dangles from rails at the edges of the room expectantly – and will hang here for a few long days to provide clients with the opportunity to visit and interact with the garments at close quarters. Simons insists he is keen to change the way couture is thought of, to modernise it. Gesturing towards a hand-sewn white T-shirt, perched conspicuously between two ornate gowns, he makes a grand claim: “Couture is becoming more and more affordable.” If a dress can cost as much as a car, I wonder how much a T-shirt might set you back. A wheel’s worth?
Over at the Chanel show, Karl Lagerfeld has conjured a futuristic set staged amid the crumbling ruins of a theatre at the Grand Palais. Paris is sweltering and guests are vigorously fanning themselves with beautiful Chanel booklets; Kristen Stewart is doing her best not to wilt in leather as she takes her seat beside a sulky-mouthed Michael Pitt, and Rihanna is reportedly in here somewhere, but she is somewhat camouflaged in a sea of immaculately dressed women. The atmosphere is relaxed, or at least a lot calmer than the mad frenzy that usually surrounds the unveiling of a ready-to-wear collection – a fact that may have to do with the injection of clients among the fashionable celebrities. The most highly subjective spectators, they don’t have to love everything they see – the collection is merely a starting point for a creative collaborative process. From the designer’s perspective, it’s because couture is freer. As Harlech, who is in the audience today, declares: “This is where a designer’s imagination can find its finest articulation.”
Moments later and the Chanel models are storming towards me in knee-high boots and dresses so finely detailed it’s impossible to take it all in: after five minutes I have whiplash. I spy one dress so breathtaking that I’m already plotting how to win an Oscar, in order to justify wearing it. I’ve rarely worn couture: the first time I did was for an awards ceremony a few years ago. Valentino let me borrow a pale pink jacket and skirt plastered in tiny delicate flowers which was – rather unnervingly – flown over from Paris with its own security guard. Feeling like a million dollars and wearing a million dollars, it transpires, are mutually inclusive. However, it’s not altogether fun: I spent the entire evening cowering in a corner terrified somebody would gesture too wildly, drink in hand, and with a single splash ruin the work of art I was wearing. And I wore a tuxedo dress from Chanel couture to a presentation in Paris, in 2011, which made me very late because I dedicated so much time beforehand to taking photos of it. After the show had finished and I had handed the outfit back sadly, I emailed Chanel and asked that when I die I be buried in it. They didn’t seem to take my request seriously, but it was so perfect that (just like the women who buy couture) I wanted to own it forever.
Back in New York for the Vogue shoot, Patrick Demarchelier‘s simple no-nonsense studio has been transformed into a wonderland – not by elaborate sets or dramatic lighting, but simply because of the clothes I am wearing. Vogue‘s fashion director, Lucinda Chambers, has selected nine couture dresses from various houses, including Dior, Armani and Versace, to shoot today and I am like a kid in a sweetshop, grabbing at the rails, foaming at the mouth to try things on. For Chambers, shooting couture is a liberating experience because the clothes speak for themselves. “I think with couture you want to leave it alone because it’s so beautiful,” she says. “What’s so great is that you can do it in so many different ways, but you’re not thinking about what’s a trend. You’re thinking, how can I make these clothes magical and have a narrative that has nothing to do with fashion. You just want to celebrate the glory of them and their gorgeousness, rather than saying ‘Wear pink’ or ‘This is tweed’.”
It would be easy to get lost in the dresses, analysing them at length and taking in all the painstaking details, but once on, those details never seem to overwhelm the final effect. Our story today is inspired by Charlie Chaplin; I’m unsure how tomboyish I can make these elegant gowns appear, but decide to give it my best shot (mainly because I have no choice). I can see the men’s woollen trousers and a variety of wigs perched beside the dizzying array of sequined tulle on display, waiting for us to start. Couture requires serious dedication: it takes three people to assist a heavily beaded Armani dress up a flight of stairs – even with me bearing most of its weight – and can be hard to move in. But once I’m in position, everything comes together and my outfit makes me want to act differently, to be better. Ordinarily on a shoot the only character I play is an amped-up version of myself, but the task of channelling my inner Chaplin is made easy because the couture makes me feel different: I am transformed as soon as I put it on. I feel special; it’s a decadent experience.
Maria Grazia Chiuri – the head designer, along with Pierpaolo Piccioli, atValentino – enjoys dreaming up new couture ideas almost as much as wearing it. She considers herself very lucky to have the opportunity to own something tailor-made for her. “I feel the quality. Even if it’s a simple dress, the cut is so perfect, so clean, it’s never wrong. You feel perfect.” Harlech takes it one step further. When talking of her extensive collection of Chanel couture, she says: “It’s like a lover. You never stop having a conversation with it – both physically and spiritually. You reinhabit the story of wearing a piece each time you put it on.”
The time has come for me to reinhabit my own clothes, and I can’t say I’m happy about it. I’m having a hard time saying goodbye to the Valentino corn dress I first tried on in Paris, but I must. I pull on my trusty denim hotpants and plain white T-shirt (sadly, not the Dior one) and walk back on set to bid everyone farewell. “I almost didn’t recognise you,” the make-up artist exclaims.
I traipse off back to the East Village, back to reality, back to scrolling through my iPhone photos. And I remember clothes really do make the man, or woman. As long as many men (or women) spent hours making them specifically for you.
Please, don’t get me wrong, I love winter, in fact, it’s my favorite season. Nothing brings me more joy than to disappear underneath an ocean of warm blankets while sipping on a hot cup of coffee and paging through my fashion collections. Though when it comes to facing the outdoors, I’m afraid a cup of coffee won’t be enough to calm the cold. Despite my steamy love affair with winter, I have to admit that the uncomfortableness of the freezing weather drives me insane. Due to this icy coldness of winter, it sometimes (actually most of the time) is difficult to create an outfit where fashion and comfort would be in perfect harmony. The key for a un des amis de la mode to survive mother nature’s icy strike is to achieve the perfect balance between fashion and comfort: to still dress classy, but also be warm enough to resist the cold. It all finally comes down to the popular question “What to wear?” we so frequently ask ourselves, especially on those freezing days when not even layering can save you from mother nature’s cold heart.
Winter calls for the cover-up season. It’s when coats, puffer jackets and ultra-cool biker jackets all come together to provide us with a comfy&trendy look to hot-up our wardrobes. In summer it’s easy to fix up a quick&stylish collaboration with quirky crops and sassy skirts and still be comfortable, however, winter makes it seem impossible for fashion to conquer the teeth-clinging cold. It’s necessary to assure that the items you purchase during this season is not only aesthetically appealing to you, but also that it meets your need to be warm and comfortable. Therefore, to my rescue, I thank the cover-up genius, the Oh-so-trendy Coat:
so many different shapes, patterns and textures
flexible in infinite possibilities of mixing&matching.
“The Coat: winter’s secret weapon to a festive season.”
When you’re looking to be stylish while still being able to feel your toes, the Dear Coat is your friend (best friend). Not only does it guarantee you of being totally classy, but it is also sure to protect you from the freezing blitz.
Nothing is more beautiful than a woman with self-confidence. A coat offers you the perfect opportunity to walk in style and be comfortable in what you are wearing. It is sleek, elegant and begs for attention.
“Don’t feel pressured by trends,instead open your eyes to the various styles available, and make up your mind as to how you would like to see yourself keeping warm in this season.”
Coats provides us with a wide variety of print-, colour- and texture inspired shapes to cover up our bodies. Feel free to experiment. These colder seasons can be quite overwhelming due to the pricy investment buys. Coats will be in the more expensive category in comparison to your average jersey, therefore be sure to purchase the perfect one that will endure for the seasons to come.
“Don’t choose the coat, but let the coat choose you.”
A coat is a long-term item you add to you winter collection. It is a timeless accessory you can wear from season to season and even pass on to your children. Make sure that the coat you purchase is of well quality and dateless elements. Most of us lean towards a more classical cut or neutral colour. It is important to choose the correct colour and shape: look for something timeless and classic, something that will not start to bore you, but also compliments your closet and fits with most of your items.
Try staple and balanced colors, though if you have the disposable income to afford investing in some statement coats, then don’t be afraid to play the wildcard, choose something bold and noteworthy. If I could, I would purchase every coat that tickles my fashion-bone, but that doesn’t exactly fit my budget, now does it… If you’re looking into investing in a coat or two, here are a few stylish&timeless coat-trends to simplify your choice, let’s get coating:
The Oversized Coat
It’s trendy, it’s fun and it’s the oversized coat. From Celine’s checked-up 80’s throwback to Veronique Leroy’s modern&shape-bound cocoons or Chloe’s relaxed, pastel duffel, this coat is dominating the winter platform. These beauties, made to perform, have outshined sleek tailoring on the runways. Forget about shape, the oversized coat is all about being bold, it presents style. Choose a colored, texture or patterned coat to emphasize the impact. Compliment this coat with your favorite boyfriend jeans and a pair of classic heals (the perfect shoe would be Valentino’s Studded Point heels/sandals).
Céline Fall 13/14
Céline Fall 13/14
Céline Fall 13/14
Chanel Fall 14/15
Veronique Leroy Autumn Winter 13/14
Simone Rocha Topshop Unique Autumn Winter 13/14
The classic Pea Coat
Clean, simple and elegant. The pea coat’s classical style makes it suitable for almost any occasion. It’s a versatile, easy-to-wear and fashion friendly. For a more chick look, also see the high collar pea coats. Polar necks and a sassy handbag would do this coat justice.
Gucci Read-To-Wear Fall 14
Yves Saint Laurent
The Parka Coat
The parka, casual, military and comfortable, also known as the evolutionary puffer jacket, is perfect for an everyday quick-fix. Adjust your outfit with the quick touch of a clip-on fur collar.
Nina Ricci Fall 13
Alexander Wang Spring Summer 13/14
Chloé Fall 12/13
The Cape Coat
Dramatic and mysterious, the cape coat approaches winter with a more lady-like and sensual tone.The oversized sleeves, belted waist detail and cropped hemlines emphasizes your curves.
Dolce&Gabana Fall 14
Christian Dior Fall 13
Chanel Fall 14
Valentino Fall 13
The Toggle Coat
This coat is worn to create a boxy shape. Unlike the cape coat, it is combined with sporty influences to enhance a boyish style. Paired with some Dr. Martins or hiking boots and leather backpack, this coat is the perfect solution for an outdoor adventure.
Rachel Zoe Fall 13/14
Rag&Bone Fall 11
Christopher Raeburn Ready-to-wear Fall 14
Yves Saint Laurent
The Blanket Coat
The blanket coat is exactly what it says: a-wrap-around blanket styled coat. This coat assures you of being warm&comfortabel with a slightly edgy and casual look. Wrap these around a capricious maxi skirt with a pair patent leather boots.
“I am intrigued by the narrative woven into the imagination and creativity of self-expression, and, above all, the manifestation of an identity that extends far beyond the fashion that we buy and wear.”
– Jackie Burger, Fashion Editor of Elle South Africa
When referring to the term “fashion”, each person has his/her own connotation: some might be negative and some might be positive. To some people fashion is a superficial way of spending money and gaining status while to others it is a spontaneous valve creating opportunity for the inner persona to manifest.
Nothing gets me more excited than engaging in fashion-based conversation with un des amis de la mode (a fasion friend). Normally we could go on for hours, discussing the endless possibilities of mixing and matching all sorts of garments, brainstorming over new and daring ideas and exploring the open minded space of creativity. But when I try to keep up the same conversation with the cashier at Cotton On, the so-called conversation would end up in me standing all alone in monologue style. Having made a conclusion I realized that the difference between these two bodies is the different interpretations of fashion. To me, and likely to my un des amis de la mode too, fashion is more than just a piece of clothing you wear to cover your body and look lovely for your “maybe”-future husband, fashion is form of self-expression, a momentous act/thought created when the soul, body and heart meats together. We do it, to wear it, not so that we can be it, but that it can be us.
Fashion cannot be defined or placed in a box, it represents a life liven and therefor it is enormous and monumental. A lot of people refer to fashion as art. I myself have a great passion for art and it makes perfectly sense to me why some people would relate to fashion as art: art is also a way of expressing yourself, just like fashion. Perhaps fashion can be seen as “wearable art“.
A few years ago the famous question “Is fashion art?” returned to the spotlight when fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld told the Telegraph: “I am against museums and exhibitions in fashion. One woman said to me — ‘In my world, the world of art’ — so I said: ‘Oh, don’t you make dresses anymore?’ A thin smile and then: ‘If you call yourself an artist, then you are second-rate.’”.
Whether fashion is art or not, at end, who cares? When we look at the work of some game-changing designers such as Alexander McQueen, Laura Mulleavy and Rodarte’s Kate, it is totally acceptable for fashion to intercept with the realm of art. Other designers agreeing with the statement that “fashion is art” includes Paul Poiret, who fancied himself as an artist, Ralph Rucci and John Varvatos who told ARTINFO: “If you’re creating and you’re new, and you’re pushing the envelope – I definitely think it’s a form of art”.
Yves Saint Laurent co-founder and partner Pierre Bergé, who does not relate to fashion as art, describes some of the biggest names in the industry as artists. He told ARTINFO: “Fashion exists only when it’s worn by women. Otherwise, it is nothing. It’s not an art. But Yves Saint Laurent was an artist, like Balenciaga was an artist. And Chanel, too. And Christian Dior, too. And Schiaparelli was an artist. Fashion is not an art.”
Contributing to the debate, against Lagerfeld’s wishes, is the fact that fashion is making its way into art’s most sacred institution — the museum — with exhibitions such as “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” at the Met, “Elsa Schiaparelli And Miuccia Prada: Impossible Conversations”, the traveling “Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective,” and the roving “Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk” all attracting record-breaking crowds.
The Met’s Spring 2012 Costume Institute exhibition, Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations, explores the striking affinities between Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada, two Italian designers from different eras.
“Don’t be a prisoner of fashion and don’t be afraid of age!”
– Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada
While fashion is parading around, having everyone scratching their heads, it still has quite a gap to fill before it convinces both industries (and the rest of the world) of its place in the field.
While the answer to this question remains in the dark, the tug of war between both companies will endure. For the long run it is best to refer to art and fashion as a symbiotic relationship – two different bodies relying and feeding off one another.
As Lagerfeld told the New York Times in 2008:
“Art is art. Fashion is fashion. However, Andy Warhol proved that they can exist together.”
Andy Warhol: Tomato (1968) transformed into a Campbell’s Soup dress (Fashion Rogues, The Rodnik Band).
Thus, whether fashion is art or not, the true beauty of fashion is not about having a walk-in closet with bejeweled garments, velvet Versace dresses or a pair of leather Louis Vuitton’s , but the never-ending possibility for each persona to be her own “A-list” designer. Being classy goes much deeper than the skin. Classiness reflects the way you carry and present yourself, it is a lifestyle. You can always be classy and fashionable, but you can’t always be fashionable and classy. In fact it should be whether a person has a sense of classiness rather than a sense of fashion. Being fashionable does not guarantee you being classy, it guarantees you of just being you. Fashion is infinite, it can be anything, but being classy is the state of an honest heart in a passionate fashion-love affair.
Mark wears a sweater by Kenzo, shirt by Stussy, pants by Moschino and shoes by Havanas. Kim wears a sweater by Chloe, shirt by Acne, dress by Kenzo, pants by Marni, necklaces by Emporio Armani and Marni, bracelets by Alexis Bittar, belt by Ariat International and shoes by Siperga.
Auguste wears dresses by Missoni and Sonia by Sonia Rykiel and necklace by Marni.
Mark wears a blazer by Lanvin, t-shirt by Givenchy, shirt by by Robert James, pants by Versace, necklace by Alexis Bittarand shoes by Givenchy. Auguste wears shirts by Salvatore Ferragamo and Peter Som, skirts by Louis Vuitton and ICB, pants by Helmut Lang, scarf by Louis Vuitton, necklaces by Salvatore Ferragamo and Frieda Rothman Belargo Jewelry, bracelets and rings by Belargoand shoes by Carven.