Friday, July 10, 2009

HANGING BY A THREAD: Haute Couture Holds On

My version of cruel and unusual punishment was realized Monday when I read Suzy Menkes’ special report on the haute couture collections presented this week in Paris.

“In the closeted world of satin and sequins that is Parisian haute couture, there is uncertainty about the future.”

You may as well tell me there is uncertainty about the future of oxygen. Suffice to say, I was not appreciative of Suzy’s assessment, but I decided to cut her some slack and read on. Suzy’s article confirmed what we’ve been hearing for quite some time: The couture climate is looking bleak. No matter what John Galliano’s recession-resistant ranting and his gorgeous collection of Van Dyck-inspired gowns told us in January, one thing is for sure: High fashion is losing its foothold.

Christian Lacroix may very well be hawking fashion sketches beside the Seine before the seasons change; the models at Christian Dior walked shortened runways sans pants and John Galliano romanticized this year’s in-house show as an “intimate” gathering of 120 guests, notably minus the presence of one Anna Wintour.

“The change [to show in house] was made to express the spirit of couture rather than as a belt-tightening exercise,” writes Menkes, quoting Sidney Toledano, Dior Couture President and Chief Executive. Yes, yes, dear Sidney, of course it is. Does he think we’re blind, deaf and suffering from mild concussions? We’re not talking about a Marc Jacobs off-site show at The Armory here; this was inside Dior’s very own Avenue Montaigne salon. Sure, the show reportedly used some 4,000 roses as a backdrop, but think about what they saved on overhead.

Couturier Stéphane Rolland – who “gravitates to obvious glamour with plenty of artsy embellishment,” according to Women’s Wear Daily – was interviewed by Reuters before his show this week. His estimation of today’s market was thoroughly depressing: “The collections of the 1990s, the 2000s, which were all about spectacle – that's over." Instead, Rolland muted his latest work to a palette of soft white, grey and black, with the simplicity of draped dresses and tailored jackets, allowing peeks of decadence in exaggerated shoulders and pleated collars. This is still couture, after all, so the fabrics remained sumptuous and the shapes precocious, but Mr. Rolland was notably restrained.

"I think couturiers have understood that haute couture has to be about sellable, commercial pieces, exceptional ones of course with a true Parisian savoir-faire," Rolland said to Reuters. To that end, Dior’s Toledano also said he expected “very few haute couture houses to be in business in a decade's time.”

Sellable? Sure. Commercial? Ouch! Gentleman, you are making me sad.

Do not fear. In fashion, there is always someone showing silver lining. Gaultier, Givenchy, Chanel, Aramni Prive and plenty others put forth collections that appeared unaffected by the buzz surrounding the impending death of a fashion master. And, thankfully, the UK’s Daily Mail, whose tabloid-esque version of news is my guilty reading pleasure, jumped in to alleviate some worries about our dear friend Mr. Lacroix:

“If the reaction to Lacroix's show is anything to go by, the flamboyant designer will soon be back. Nearly all the 24 looks garnered a raucous round of applause, and loyal fans unfurled a banner reading 'Christian Lacroix forever' as the genial designer took a final lap around the catwalk.”

Long live Lacroix!

Photo credit: Getty Images of Christian Lacroix Fall 2009.

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