Sunday, October 24, 2010

Crash Course in Haute Couture

Anybody who knows me probably knows that I'm not a fashionista and never have been. I've never been a tomboy but at the same time, I've never been into make-up or keeping up with the latest trends for the season. Its not that I don't love beautiful clothes or dressing up. I just never hung out with the kind of crowd that was into those things.

Its never too late to start knowing a little more about fashion though. I do love sewing and haute couture is all about 'high sewing'.

I took my mother to the Valentino Retrospective: Past/Present/Future for her birthday. She's no fashionista either but she has always loved designing and admiring beautiful creations. We got there early, spent about thirty minutes oo-ing and ah-ing at the unimaginably beautiful dresses and then joined the guided tour.

Thats where my crash course in 'Haute Couture' started. First and foremost, I finally learnt how to pronounce those two words correctly. Also, I never would have guessed that an Englishman, Charles Frederick Worth, was the first couturier (another new word) to start the whole haute couture movement in Paris. His fashion house was called the House of Worth. Supposedly, to be genuinely haute couture, the atelier (new word again) needs to be in Paris. However, Valentino is somehow except from this and has his atelier in Rome.

The most awe inspiring piece of information was that to be 'haute couture', the entire dress must be hand made. All those intricate and elaborate gowns - HAND MADE! And, all the accessories have to come from designated haute couture places. For example, all feathers used must be ostrich feathers and have to come from Moulin Rouge.

But, back to the hand made. HAND MADE! Every stitch on those dresses! My mother had to go round all the dresses again after the tour to re-admire them from the hand made perspective. Sequins, beads, flowers, shirring, whatever it was, it had to be done by hand. Take a look at this one - pierced by hand and then pleated by hand. It looked stunning when the model was walking.

My two favorite dresses were from 1969, a black one and a red one. Neither of them were the over the top, super dressy sort. Unfortunately, its really hard to find images of those dresses so, I can't put anything up here. All I know is that the black one was worn by Monica Vitti in a movie called La Notte. The movie was in black and white so, the detail of the dress wasn't coming out anyway. Just trust me, they were simple, elegant and feminine.

I've been thinking about whether I'd like to own any of these dresses and my final answer is 'No'. They're beautiful and I like looking at them but I think that if I somehow got in the league of the 3000 or so women in the world who could actually afford some of these dresses, I still wouldn't want one. I'd be a nervous wreck just putting it on, let alone walking out in it. What if I snagged it on the heel of my shoe? Or accidentally closed the car door on one of those huge skirts? OR, what if I had to go to the bathroom?! Or, for that matter, eat? OR sit? I'd ruin the artwork. No, I think I could handle trying one on, under supervision, in a cleanroom, but I wouldn't want to spend the equivalent of a car on one of them.

Would I like the experience of being part of the creation of one of them? YES. I'm blown away by the beauty of all the dresses but I am even more moved by the work that goes into them.

My mother had a fantastic day and as we were leaving, she said "My eyes are too old to be doing any of that work so I'd be happy just sweeping the floors while these people worked."


NomadicExpat said...

Funny, those words have been in my vocab for a while now, but I still don't own a haute couture dress. :-( There was a documentary done on the world of haute couture where there was a dress sewn entirely in ostrich feathers and the atelier had to hand pick each one to ensure they are of the same color and size. Owning one of those dresses is akin to owning a piece of art. Really.

Mike said...

'nervous wreck'

So you would put it on and never move again?

Fiona said...

for some reason, nyonya kebaya top came to mind after reading your post. i would think the embroidery and its construction in the old times would label it 'haute couture'.

your mum's statement made me laugh. :)

Amanda said...

NomadicExpat - The tour guide said that one of the evening gowns would cost the same as a Ferrari. I think I'll take the car even if the dress is like owning art.

Mike - Yes, I think clumsy me would just have to stand there in case I did anything to it.

Fiona - I totally agree with you. Good that you thought of the kebaya!