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Reports: Haute Couture S/S 03

by Jo-Ann Furniss on 20 January 2003

Journalist Jo-Ann Furniss sent us a series of faxes from Paris couture week.

Journalist Jo-Ann Furniss sent us a series of faxes from Paris couture week.

FAO: Penny @ SHOWstudio

'The luxury of not caring' (a phrase pilfered from the designer Rick Owens when describing his own clothes) seems an appropriate title for these pieces because it sums up a certain ambivalence towards couture.

It could apply to the hardcore clientele who are in the enviable position of not having to worry too much about the amount of money they spend on a dress. It also applies to the actual staging of the ultra expensive couture presentations by the fashion houses at a time when there are undoubtedly vastly more important things going on in the world. In all of the British news reports about the lack of a Versace show this season, that is what is hinted at again and again, to paraphrase; 'it seems that Versace is inappropriate for the times'. Maybe they should tell Elton John and David 'Tom Ford, you are such a handsome man' Furnish.

Yet that doesn't explain why there has been such a growth in couture sales overall during the last year (although that doesn't necessarily mean Versace's output). In fact it is probably the only growth area within the entire fashion industry at the moment. It means that Donatella will not be joining the Red Cross just yet.

Why is this? At times of economic and political instability strange things happen. Just look at the polar extremes within Berlin during the 1930s - the fashion revolution: watch Cabaret.

Instead of being all 'Tomorrow Belongs to Me' about couture, maybe some should see that a bit of 'decadence' often works as two fingers up to the opposition - and that is the real luxury of not caring.

FAO: Penny @ SHOWstudio

Couture is power dressing in the truest sense of the word(s). During the second world war and the Nazi (them again) occupation of France, Adolph Hitler tried to move the entire couture industry to Germany - it failed - it seemed he was no match for the might of the French fashion houses. Maybe Hitler should have listened to fellow fashion dictator Mussolini, who reportedly told him in 1930; 'Any power whatsoever is destined to fail before fashion. If fashion says skirts are short you will not succeed in lengthening them, even with the guillotine.' Perhaps no surprise that it was an Italian that got it right.

And so to last night's Valentino presentation - the home of money, power and glamour. While other houses might fiddle around with P. Diddy and Liz Hurley, Valentino is too busy dressing the heavy weights. What other show could draw Ariel Sharon? There's no messing around at Valentino, the clothing might be ultra feminine, but it is certainly not made for milk sops. It is the court couturier for the economic and political elite. Under all that chiffon is a lot of steel.

FAO: Penny @ SHOWstudio

It's all change at the fashion houses again - or at least it is all rumours of all change.

Yesterday was Julien Macdonald's Givenchy presentation, but whisperings - or more accurately shoutings - are that he will not be long for the house. His presentation last night was his last chance to prove himself. The thing is he just isn't at ease with all this high ... Quite frankly he is far preferable in Kelly Brook mode rather than trying to cater for Catherine Deneuve.

Meanwhile the two crowns that everyone wants are those that belong to King Karl and Saint Yves. Who will take over Chanel when Karl Lagerfeld eventually leaves? The Kaiser is still at the top of his game anyway, judging by yesterday's performance - and thinner than ever.

And Yves Saint Laurent? Having retired last season the fate of the couture house is still up in the air. But one thing's for sure there's only one person for the job and that's Jean Paul Gaultier.

FAO: Penny @ SHOWstudio

So what have we learned from couture this season?

  1. That Dior, Chanel, Jean Paul Gaultier and although not strictly couture but looked like it - Yohji Yamamoto produced the best collections.
  2. That in terms of clothes the Alaïa presentation could eclipse them all later today.
  3. That for fantastic spectacle Dior and Philip Treacy could not be beaten. But particularly Dior - Bureau Betak should be given a medal for services to show production.
  4. That John Galliano and Karl Lagerfeld are on top form, and even better look like they're moonlighting in panto - that's a compliment by the way.
  5. Talking of panto... that Balmain collection was really not good. Laurent Mercier - the new designer behind the mask (for that was the runway theme) is in for a rough time.
  6. That Anna Piaggi is really very good, while Izzy Blow is a bit of a div. When she wore the see-through burkha at Dior - which seemed like a stroke of genius but wasn't - she was heard to moan; 'Oh I thought this might happen' as packs of photographers descended on her. Oh the modesty.
  7. Talking of the brilliant transparent burkha, it was designed by Undercover who have recently been taken under the prestigious wing of Rei Kawakubo of Comme.
  8. Some of those Givenchy clients are real nasty bitches.
  9. Ariel Sharon at Valentino? Turns out as likely as Kofi Annan catching a carnation between his teeth at Lacroix. It was a bit of a lie/mistake.
  10. The only place that people should be allowed to say fabulous within the fashion industry is at couture.

And that's it. Except my thanks to W and WWD for their great help and all of the fashion houses for their great support.

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