After expounding on the craft of couture (for which, in case you were wondering, I have something of a peccadillo) it feels fitting that Ming's latest couture outfit comes from the house of Chanel. In recent years, Chanel have devoted time and money not only to creating their own haute couture, but to preserving the industry as a whole: the company have bought six of the oldest ateliers in Paris, who supply goods and skills to the haute couture. These include the embroidery workshop of Lesage; shoemaker Massaro; Lemarié, a specialist house who supply the perfect plumage for the haute couture and create exquisite flowers; the millinery mason Michel; Desrues, a button and costume jewellery maker; and most recently, Goosens, a goldsmith and silversmith. Lagerfeld designs a special collection, known as the 'Satellite' collection, to showcase their extraordinary skills - but his couture collections themselves are packed with these ateliers' output - gilding the lily, so to speak. Well, actually, Lagerfeld's lilies are less gilded, more embroidery-encrusted, feather-tufted, and fastened up with a few glittering, jewelled buttons for good measure. This gown, the finale piece of the show, takes the Chanel suit as its basis, for a trompe l'oeil tweed created from minuscule glass beads and sequins, and voluminous chiffon skirt as weightless as the Lemarié feathers that circle its expansive hem.
What makes haute couture so special? And by special, I don't just mean expensive, although the 'special qualities' of haute couture are certainly a reason for the extreme expense of the garments. Couture is fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants fashion, where anything and everything is magically possible.
Haute couture literally translates as 'high sewing', and the idea of haute couture originated with Charles Frederick Worth in the 1850s (of course, anyone who saw me expound over yesterday's Dior gown will be well-aware of that). For a modern audience, it's difficult to articulate what a revolution haute couture was: prior to Worth, a by and large woman took fabric to a dressmaker and had a gown created to her own specifications and taste. Worth, by contrast, set himself up as an arbiter of style, a designer-cum-dictator who told women what they must wear. Marie Antoinette's 'Minister of Fashion' Rose Bertin set the precedent almost a century earlier, but Worth was the first to really transform high fashion into high art. Worth, indeed, is the originator of our caricature of the haute couturier, dressing in an artist's smock and affected velvet beret declaring 'I have Delacroix's sense of colour, and I compose: a toilette is as good as a painting.' Essentially, Worth and haute couture founded the fashion industry as we know it.
What continues to make haute couture so special is the tradition it embodies. The painstaking, labour-intensive construction methods haute couture utilises have all but died out. Mainstream fashion cannot afford the hours of work they require: and most customers simply do not have the requisite embassy balls, operas, or court functions (royal court rather than county court, of course) to justify a feather-crusted chiffon sheath, beaded georgette gown with train, or indeed a tulle gown buoyed with petticoats and fastened over its own padded and whaleboned internal corset. Oddly enough, the women who do have reason to wear these garments usually only do so once or twice, many then donating them to the museum collections where they arguably belong.
Riccardo Tisci's creation for Givenchy haute couture is our first look of this second day of Nick Knight's Couture 2011 shoot - frothed with thousands of hand-stripped ostrich feathers, hand-appliquéd with a Japanese crane in satin, chiffon and tulle, hand-dyed in degrade shades through limoncello to softest ivory... did I get the suffix 'hand' in there enough? As ready-to-wear is increasing its levels of complexity, exclusivity and expense season-on-season, the insistence on hand-craft is the one way haute couture can assert its position as fashion's equivalent of Formula One. It's not only that designers get the chance to lavish hundred (or even thousands) of hours of handwork on a garment - the very name haute couture demands that garments are entirely made by the human hand, with nary a machine-stitch in sight. Tisci has lavished weeks of work on this Givenchy gown, but even the simplest suit is the result of a hundred or so hours of concentrated labour, fitted to a client's individual measurements and with every stitch sewn by the petit mains ('little hands') who crouch in couture ateliers to complete miles of intricate needlework every season.
Hair today... and, well, hair tomorrow, actually, as we have another selection of multicoloured swatches on the table courtesy of Sam McKnight primed and ready to adorn Ming's fringe on this second day of our broadcast of Nick Knight's Couture 2011 shoot for V magazine. Today, Ming will be modelling gowns by Atelier Versace, Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel and a last-minute arrival from Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci. The latter, a stunning feather-crusted goddess gown, is so precious it was hand-couriered from Givenchy's Paris HQ by a trusted member of staff, whose job it is to retrieve the dress from our clutches this afternoon and take it back across. Couture doesn't get much more haute than that. Givenchy will kick off our shoot - although I've managed to prise it out of Jonathan Kaye's hands for an analysis this morning, to be showcased as Ming takes to the stage on our stream at 11:00 BST
Never one to do things by halves, Jonathan Kaye has pulled in the couture equivalent of the Holy Grail for Ming's latest look - la robe de mariée, or for us Anglo-Saxons, the wedding dress, this one crafted by that master of Frenchy finishing, Jean Paul Gaultier. I am about to expound something rotten on this particular tulle-tufted number in our video stream (albeit, as eagle-eyed viewers may have seen, this excerpt is something I prepared earlier while Ming was wafting about in that amazing Valentino gown) and then Nick Knight gets down to the serious business of capturing Ming for posterity, and for the pages of V. For now, here is Ming examining Ming as she glances through the shots so far.
Between shots on this Couture 2011 shoot Ming snuggles up to our Rootstein mannequin, specially drafted in to model the gowns during my musings on the when, why and wear-for of these exceptional haute couture pieces. I've christened said mannequin 'Bettina' - after the fabulous Bettina Graziani, forties couture model and muse to Jacques Fath and Hubert de Givenchy. Alas, Fath couture is no more, but Jonathan Kaye has a sensational Givenchy number lined up for tomorrow!
From 11:00 BST today, our latest broadcast kicks off, uncovering all the behind-the-scenes action from Nick Knight's latest shoot for V magazine. Here are a few snaps of hairstylist Sam McKnight's extraordinary multicoloured hairpieces, prepped and ready to co-ordinate with Jonathan Kaye's couture on our model Ming Xi.
Stay tuned for all the action, broadcasting from 11am!
It's interesting to look through the collections I didn't see first hand and gauge the reactions from other members of the press. It's something to do while waiting for the next show to start, at least, or when one wakes up three hours too early for Chanel.
Givenchy puzzled me. It also angered me a little - as regurgitated ideas generally do (I get quite angry at a lot of fashion shows, to be honest). There distinct airs to me of Christopher Kane's A/W 2010 collection, and Prada's ever-influential 'Lace' show of 2008. Semi-transparent pencil skirts with opaque peplums? Check. Prim collared shirts contrasted with peekaboo panels? Check. Jewel-toned floral embroidery glowing like neon from a predominantly black offering? Check. Miuccia and Christopher have moved onto fresh pastures of their own - Tisci should do the same.
I understand Tisci's urge to move on from the gothic, androgynous and diaphanous look he's been hammering home for a few seasons. I'm just not sure this collection was the right way to do it. That said, in the showroom the pieces looked wonderful with eye-popping print and an intricate set of intriguing textures - in one example, felt printed with panther faces was cut-out and appliqued in a wreath to a chiffon sweatshirt, which served as a windowpane onto a Swarovski-crystal embroidered pansy-print shirt underneath. That workmanship, and intricacy, was stunning. It certainly warranted the couture salon the Givenchy re-sees were held in.
Indeed, the Botox, bumper-to-bumper Benzes, and acrid whiff of hairspray mixing with Christian Dior's 'Poison' and just a whisper of embalming fluid (maybe I'm making that bit up) told me I was in the hautest of couture territory for that Givenchy close-up. As I was exiting the building, I poked my head into the Emanuel Ungaro couture salon downstairs where Giles Deacon's sophomore offering for the house was luring in the punters. In truth, I rather enjoyed Giles' Ungaro collection: in fact, the more I think about it, the more I like it. Deacon has a terribly British eye for trash - his models had what is colloquially known round my way as 'Croydon Facelifts', truly savage nails and sported the kind of clobber normally reserved for, well, the inside of select 'Gentleman's Clubs' as opposed to the storied salons of French couture.
That's what made it so much fun: in the eighties, Ungaro dressed the mistresses rather than the wives, in fattened folds of thick satin suggestively sprouting ostrich feathers. Your basic couture concubines. They'd probably have waited until bedtime to don Deacon's wares: but they would definitely have worn them. Incidentally, to a British audience, these clothes didn't summarise a slightly stale air of frou-frou Frenchy seduction. Instead, there was an unavoidable comparison between the Ungaro models and the ostentatiously tarted-up Traveller brides captured in the Channel Four documentary series My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. I'm sure Giles was grinning from one spectacle-arm to the other backstage at the thought of that. It made me crack a smile.
What else? I thought Stella McCartney's daywear shapes were ungainly and unwearable, I though Giambattista Valli's skirts were far, far too short, and although everything at Hermes looked like one of the house's slightly hilarious eighties advertisements (especially the shoulders) I thought the lines were clean and the use of pattern interesting. Plus I'm a sucker for a peregrine falcon perched on a model's wrist.
I have been spending lots of time at the London Designer Showrooms in Paris. That's because a.) they have free muffins; b.) are close to a Starbucks; and c.) are filled with some of the best talent fashion has to offer. Not necessarily in that order.
Case in point: Mary Katrantzou. I can't rave enough about her clothes - but I'll have to join an ever-expanding queue of well-wishers. I spent an hour with Katrantzou yesterday, during which time Hamish Bowles of American Vogue, Hilary Alexander of The Telegraph, and stylist Edward Enninful of i-D magazine and many many more, came in to flick through Katrantzou's kaleidoscopic prints. Mary wore some lipstick for the inevitable photo ops, but otherwise she was her usual down-to-earth self.
I was most struck, however, when watching her talk with buyers - something the press rarely gets to witness. Both Katrantzou and her tight-knit team have a great head for figures, both in reeling off the wholesale rates for her graphic little dresses, and in making those graphic little dresses a viable retail commodity. A prime example is her jaw-dropping Faberge egg frock - the one embroidered with sequins, appliqued with leather, crusted with about four thousand crystals and then embellished with three-dimensional pink flowers. Sounds like it costs about as much as a two-bedroom flat? You're probably right. Katrantzou has a printed version - drop-dead flattering, cap-sleeved and to-the-knee - that will retail in three, rather than five, figures. Now that's interesting.
Last night I received an email from the very, very nice press attachés of Karla Otto (one of the finest PR houses in the world I hasten to add, hear hear!) to advise that no photography will be allowed at today's Celine show.
Well, okay, let me temper that - the polite notice stated that no non-official catwalk photography would be permitted. Namely, no cameraphone snaps or covert twitpics, and that goes for the showrooms too. With a vision as precise as Phoebe Philo's, it makes perfect sense that she would seek to regulate how that vision is communicated to the world, especially in the infancy of its first public catwalk outing. It seems that, after a few years of flooding the universe-slash-twitterverse with endless imagery, fashion is pulling back in on itself and going low-key.
In a season celebrating all things Balenciaga, it feels appropriate that fashion should pull away from the public eye. Balenciaga was resolutely private, obsessed with the perfection of his art. He despised the press, refusing them seats and avoiding loaning them garments to shoot. He decided, in the mid-fifties, that he would show to the press a month after every other couture house, and therefore a month after his clients had ordered their garments - he hated their decisions to be affected by press coverage of the collection.
Balenciaga also chose, one day, to shutter shop because there he decided there was no-one left to dress. One can only imagine what would happen if you tried to do that in our current fashion world. Then again, when would a designer find the time for such an epiphany, sandwiched as they are, constantly, between pre-collection, selling collection, resort, catwalk, showroom, and repeat.
Celine kicks off this afternoon at 13:00 CET. I have been informed the show 'plans to run on time.' Possibly with the military precision of fellow LVMH stablemate Louis Vuitton, which is slated for a prompt 10am start on Wednesday.
We're halfway through the week here in Paris - when a week started to consist of nine days I'm not entirely sure - and I'm about to head off to my next show which is Jean-Paul Gaultier up in his former dance-hall HQ in the Marais.
It's always a pity the Paris Collections are so hectic, because there's always much too much to write about. Paris is the capital of international fashion, I'm accepting no argument on that front. That's why I'm about to leave to see a French designer's latest collection, after visiting the hottest designers London has to offer, and have just received invites from a Brit (Phoebe Philo) and an American (Marc Jacobs) for their shows later this week.
It's been a strong showing thusfar - especially from quintessentially Parisian houses. I loved both the Rochas and Nina Ricci collections. They seemed to be speaking one language - French - and they both looked like the biggest pile of chic I've ever seen. That chicness is a major message here: even Rick Owens is doing it, in a collection that harked back to one of the greatest of all couturiers, the Anglo-American Charles James. If you haven't seen his down-stuffed evening jacket, log onto the Victoria and Albert museum's website and marvel at its sculptural twists and turns. Then hot-foot it over to Owens come winter and purchase your own, equally stunning, version.
Today's Haider Ackermann show was wonderful - and it may seem odd to link him with Owens, but both these designers have a vision of how people should look for the future. It's a vision tinged with the past - this season Owens alighted on fifties couture, but Ackermann's was a more complex idea. There was an air of Edwardian refinement to his clothing, and the colours were utterly divine. That seems to be something I'm espousing on every possible medium, but they were just that good. Rumour is that was his last show under his own label. If so, he's going out with one hell of a bang. The standing ovation he received - twice in a single show, I might add - felt entirely justified. It was a fashion moment you wished wouldn't end.
The Maison Martin Margiela show, by contrast, felt never-ending. They were a victim of the rammed Parisian schedule, rammed in next to Lanvin, which caused a few editors to skip (the show, not with joy). The reason why? One stated, plainly 'It's not Margiela anymore'. That was the issue with this Maison Martin Margiela show: it seemed to be trying very, very hard to be a Maison Martin Margiela show. So hard, in fact, that it became the sole concept of the show, from the model's bed-head hairdos to the jingle-jangle of random metal object slung around their extremities as avant-garde jewellery. The clothes themselves caused no excitement, but as far as felted-wool and shearling dresses over dresses go, they were perfectly fine. Still, you were waiting for a buzz that never came.
A quick round-up of everything else I've loved so far: Hussein Chalayan's clever layering and thick knits; Lanvin's pin-neat daywear and flat brogues; the refreshing futurism of the young, namely Pedro Lourenço and Gareth Pugh; and pretty much everything at Mugler. But more on that very soon.
Collections report: 'Lady' is a politically loaded term: maybe it's just straight-on politically incorrect. Any die-hard dyed-in-the-wool feminist, I'm sure, would bristle at the use of such a word, Read more
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Listen to Fashion Director Alex Fury's latest impression on Rick Owens' collection:
Collection: Rick Owens
03 Mar 2011, 17:30 GMT
I have been to three shows today - Zac Posen, Ann Demeulemeester and Balmain - and have three more to go. But this is the most welcome sight of the day: the spread at Zadig & Voltaire! Amazing
After our opening show of the day - Zac Posen's savagely-scissored Morticia Addams meets Mugler offering (was he hankering after heading the house before the appointment of Mr. Formichetti?), I met SHOWstudio.com contributor and my last In Fashion interviewee Ruth Hogben for a terribly civilised Cafe Crème at Angelina's on the Rue de Rivoli. Très Parisien!
Today from 16:00 GMT SHOWstudio.com will re-stream Fashion Director Alexander Fury's In Fashion interview with the trailblazing image maker Ruth Hogben. The conversation details her career to date; her tenure as Nick Knight's assistant from 2005 to February of 2009 to her collaborative projects with an expanding roster of industry elite. Having already received accolades such as inclusion in the ICA's Birds Eye View film festival, this is definitely one rising star to keep your eye on so be sure to tune in to catch this in-depth interview in its entirety.