Clothes-minded—October 30, 2007

By Allison Cassing

’Tis the season for runway shows, fa(ll) la la la la! In the past weeks, editors have been jetting to and from major fashion capitals, attending show after show of dazzling spring 2008 collections. Following closely on the heels of spring will be spring couture, followed by next year’s ready-to-wear resort and fall couture collections. Luckily for the fashion-obsessed, there never seems to be a lull. Fashion shows range from the traditional (the tents at Bryant Park in NYC) to the extravagant (Lagerfeld’s latest show for Fendi on the Great Wall of China), and so do the clothes on the catwalk. To compare ready-to-wear to couture would be like comparing American cheese to Camembert—you can eat them both, but really! In feathers, luxe fabrics, and months’ worth of stitches, the fantastical world of couture does not reach the masses the way ready-to-wear does. It’s outrageously expensive, and some pieces are nearly unwearable. But it’s spectacular, and to be ignorant of it is to dine on Kraft singles.

Haute couture creations are the showpieces of fashion houses. Once a term only used to describe the highest fashion, nowadays the term “haute couture” is used to describe things that are decidedly not true haute couture. Studying a haute couture gown, you’d immediately see the skilled craftsmanship that went into the construction. You might even be surprised when you were told that the hem was hand-stitched. Also, you would probably feel bad for not wearing white gloves while inspecting the frock when you learned that it would sell for upward of $25,000. (A certain songstress at the Spiderman II premiere sported one priced at nearly $9 million!) Ironically, design houses rarely turn a profit on their couture. The whole process is really just to keep their visionary designer muscles toned and create some drool-worthy clothing. Hundreds of hours are put into these masterpieces, and each working hand is at the top of his craft. Inside and out, these are wearable works of art. Though not many design houses produce couture collections, we’re at no loss for wanna-haves because the world of fall’s haute couture is all Chanel wishes and Christian Lacroix dreams.

Fashion! Turn to the left and check out Armani Privé for some David Bowie–inspired pieces. Sequined fedoras and booties were paired with polished, short, full skirts and nipped waist jackets to start the show. The pieces in orange, blue, purple, and pink were paired with black to give a rocker edge to the brighter hues. The dozens of awe-inspiring dresses that followed were a bit more muted. A strapless silver number with visible seaming was a completely wearable stunner. For the more adventurous, a shawl of multicolored feathers latticed together was thrown over a rich burnt-orange silk strapless dress. The last look of the show was a perpetually wind-swept full skirt, with dipped crystals that fell from a black bodice with the deepest of sweetheart necklines. It’s definitely a look made for rock and high rollers.

Christian Lacroix’s fall couture showed scores of bright, over the top, completely alluring fashion. The collection is outrageous, but it flows. Think costumes for a chic fairy-tale fantasy: scarlet fur coat, striped patchwork dress, deconstructed chiffon frocks, and strands of pearls as big as golf balls. Lacroix indulges the fashion imagination and gives the grown woman the chance to play dress up again.

The first half of the Chanel show was perfect 1960s jet-set couture. The jackets and coats with their funnel necks and cropped sleeves in Chanel’s trademark tweeds could have been found in Jackie O’s White House closet. The collection was infused with whimsy: Regular side seams boasted spouts of feathers and fabric sticking straight out of the garments. A tan herringbone coat was outlined in feathers, and a fitted, off-the-shoulder black dress had bows and feathers running down the stitching of the silhouette. Along with the most luxurious fabrics, ribbons, sequins, and embroidery detailed the progressive pieces. As usual, it was another seamingly spectacular collection from Chanel.

From the structured (jackets and short feather bubble skirts) to the flowing (alluringly draped long gowns), Givenchy was sensational. Goddesses and amazons with a contemporary twist served as inspiration for the Givenchy runway. Long, white, toga-based gowns were updated with silver sequins and swirls of fabric. Modern amazons would be wild about the wrap and corset detailing on dresses in black and khaki. We see animal influence come in through splashes of leopard print on outfits and luxe fur jackets and vests. It’s an ideal collection for an interpretive Halloween costume.

Couture culture is not for all. Not everybody gets the extravagant fashions. Most of us can’t afford couture. Those who have a deep fondness, but not pockets, for couture can appreciate the art from afar until they strike it rich. Then they can queue up with the rich, famous, and famously rich for their own Lacroix.