Larocca: Couture Battles the Recession

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Valentino's black beaded petals. Photo: Imaxtree

Karl Lagerfeld was signing a teddy bear dressed in his image for a Japanese fan on the stage of his couture show in Paris Tuesday night when he was asked about inspiration for his collection. "I could not make the big ball gowns this time," he said, "because there are no more balls."

The truth is that, even during the boom years, there were never many balls that demanded haute couture. The couture world is incredibly small, and now, in the midst of financial meltdown, it is growing even smaller. The tears streaming down the faces in the front row of Christian Lacroix — whose show went on but whose future is uncertain — could almost be for the whole charmingly old-fashioned notion that the world's most beautiful clothes are sewn by hand.

Couture exists largely as a hype machine for fashion houses' less glamorous, more profitable divisions. But it's a somewhat awkward time for hype, and, not surprisingly, this season was quiet. Dior showed in its Avenue Montaigne shop, and Anna Wintour stayed home. International party girls — Dasha Zhukova, Lauren Santo Domingo, Fabiola Beracasa — were out in force, but celebrities were few and far between. Kylie Minogue oohed at Gaultier's tribute to old-Hollywood sirens, and Megan Fox made the tabloids again alongside a heavily made-up Cate Blanchett in the front row at Armani Privé.

Nevertheless, it remains as easy as ever to abandon judgment during a couture show, because the technique is so transfixing. Watch how the black beaded petals on a Valentino dress move, and the way they are supported by elegant, exposed corseting. Valentino's collection, heralded as a departure, was black as night, yet simultaneously so light that it looked as if it might float off the runway and out onto Boulevard St. Germain. With nary a red column in site, it is a new era for the house, to be sure.

At Chanel, the volume on the train of the wedding dress was far more exciting (if less practical) than the doctored-up tweed suits with their long, sometimes embellished otter tails. There was unbelievable flounce in a pouf skirt at Lacroix, and such breathtaking colors pulled into Dior's famous New Look silhouette. It's all rather hypnotizing and a far more credible case for the notion of fashion as high art than anything in ready-to-wear.

There were still, of course, lots of parties, with everything starting terribly late. ("You didn't come to your fitting this morning!" lamented a press agent to one front-row regular. "I woke up at 2," came the reply.) Carine Roitfeld alone hosted four events, Azzaro designer Vanessa Seward dragged people to an artists' atelier in the far-off 18th Arrondissement, Valentino hosted a late-night disco, and Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren got in on the action, too. Every fine-jewelry collection showed off their rocks — and, they claimed, made some serious sales as well.

That's believable inside this tiny, rarefied universe. The clients' section at a couture show can be blinding if the light hits it right: For some people, there's no such thing as a recession, a depression, or a meltdown. And it is for them that this world — even if in a shrinking version — will continue to exist.

Related: Video: The Making of a Chanel Haute Couture Outfit [NYM]
Jak & Jil's Street Couture Shots [NYM]
Fug Girls: What Would We Give for Couture? [NYM]

Karl Lagerfeld was signing a teddy bear dressed in his image for a Japanese fan on the stage of his couture show in Paris Tuesday night when he was asked about inspiration for his collection. "I could not make the big ball gowns this time," he said, "because there are no more balls."

The truth is that, even during the boom years, there were never many balls that demanded haute couture. The couture world is incredibly small, and now, in the midst of financial meltdown, it is growing even smaller. The tears streaming down the faces in the front row of Christian Lacroix — whose show went on but whose future is uncertain — could almost be for the whole charmingly old-fashioned notion that the world's most beautiful clothes are sewn by hand.

Couture exists largely as a hype machine for fashion houses' less glamorous, more profitable divisions. But it's a somewhat awkward time for hype, and, not surprisingly, this season was quiet. Dior showed in its Avenue Montaigne shop, and Anna Wintour stayed home. International party girls — Dasha Zhukova, Lauren Santo Domingo, Fabiola Beracasa — were out in force, but celebrities were few and far between. Kylie Minogue oohed at Gaultier's tribute to old-Hollywood sirens, and Megan Fox made the tabloids again alongside a heavily made-up Cate Blanchett in the front row at Armani Privé.

Nevertheless, it remains as easy as ever to abandon judgment during a couture show, because the technique is so transfixing. Watch how the black beaded petals on a Valentino dress move, and the way they are supported by elegant, exposed corseting. Valentino's collection, heralded as a departure, was black as night, yet simultaneously so light that it looked as if it might float off the runway and out onto Boulevard St. Germain. With nary a red column in site, it is a new era for the house, to be sure.

At Chanel, the volume on the train of the wedding dress was far more exciting (if less practical) than the doctored-up tweed suits with their long, sometimes embellished otter tails. There was unbelievable flounce in a pouf skirt at Lacroix, and such breathtaking colors pulled into Dior's famous New Look silhouette. It's all rather hypnotizing and a far more credible case for the notion of fashion as high art than anything in ready-to-wear.

There were still, of course, lots of parties, with everything starting terribly late. ("You didn't come to your fitting this morning!" lamented a press agent to one front-row regular. "I woke up at 2," came the reply.) Carine Roitfeld alone hosted four events, Azzaro designer Vanessa Seward dragged people to an artists' atelier in the far-off 18th Arrondissement, Valentino hosted a late-night disco, and Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren got in on the action, too. Every fine-jewelry collection showed off their rocks — and, they claimed, made some serious sales as well.

That's believable inside this tiny, rarefied universe. The clients' section at a couture show can be blinding if the light hits it right: For some people, there's no such thing as a recession, a depression, or a meltdown. And it is for them that this world — even if in a shrinking version — will continue to exist.

Related: Video: The Making of a Chanel Haute Couture Outfit [NYM]
Jak & Jill's Street Couture Shots [NYM]
Fug Girls: What Would We Give for Couture? [NYM]