Biggie Smalls: Paris Couture is Back



When Didier Grumbach, the twinkly eyed President of France’s Fédération Française de la Couture, decided to open up Paris’s couture week calendar to up-and-coming designers  making exceptional made-to-measure clothes a few years ago, it was considered a revolution—and the end of an era. No longer was couture the bastion of the high and mighty: With a wave of Grumbach’s magic wand, Paris couture week had turned into an escape hatch from the overcrowded ready-to-wear weeks in October and March for small labels to gain recognition and grow their businesses. The made-to-measure aspect seemed like nothing more than an after-thought. But all that was before Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Daphne Guinness and her ilk, and a gaggle of feisty 18-year-old princesses from the Persian Gulf arrived to reignite the spirit of one-of-a-kind fantasy dressing from Paris.

This season, Paris couture is alive with small presentations from emerging talents who are building their houses on private orders. Some of these orders come from icons and their stylists searching for their next showstopper performance fantasy, but others are mere mortals, albeit oneswith big budgets and a penchant for tour de force fashion, with a burning desire to dress them in a completely unique way.

With stints at Balenciaga and Christian Lacroix under her minimalist belt, Bouchra Jarrar turned her precise collection around one elegant look: sleek, laser-cut shapes in ivory, navy and black, contrast-color banded with flashes of gold. The cool geometry, occasionally split open to reveal a slice of lamé, or skin, was powerful and the break-out piece: a cream-banded sheath with a fat
fox tail curling up from the waist and draping over the neck, hinting at future drama.

Maison Martin Margiela continues on its merry way in a white-washed lab atelier tucked into Paris’s arty working class 11th arrondisement. It has to be said: Martin Margiela left a great team behind him. Fall’s Line 0, “Artisanal” couture collection is a honey-colored humdinger in salvaged and restyled western leathers (real and faux) and old croc bags. The mini show of just 10 looks, was staged in MMM HQ’s couture sewing atelier. For fall, the couture team has turned a pile of said bags and wallets into a pair of thigh-high  clutch cuissardes, made a fur coat from bunched animal print scarves, styled strips of scoubidou braided suede into a Pocahontas bolero, strung  black tube beads into a biker jacket, and went totally over the top—Dolly Parton, are you reading this?—for a trompe l’oeil jumpsuit made from western, fine tooled rose-covered leather rodeo boots-well not really the boots, but you get the idea. As frank Sinatra once crooned:” Yippie-yi-yo-ki-yay!” LEFT: CARVEN. PHOTO BY DAMIEN BLOTTIERE

It’s official. After several seasons on the couture calendar, Alexis Mabille will present his first  ready-to-wear runway  show for Spring 2011 next October. Along his way to the big leagues, his bow dresses have become a favorite of Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and red carpet stars.  So Mabille will keep making exceptional pieces, but now his name is known, he’s ready to build a business too. Monday’s presentation at Angelina’s tea room focused on eveningwear separates. Embroidered pink flowers strewn across a black velvet hourglass dress with embroidered bodice shows Mabille can pull off a classic couture dress. But the most fun here is his naughty extras, mix and match pieces like his floor-sweeping evening redingote, smoking jacket with ruffled-edge lapels and the pink silk crepe big bow bed jacket which can slip over a black column, or pants. Just right for a contemporary party girl.

While waiting for these shows to start, talk turns to who’s next and why no new name seems to have taken hold yet.  Well, that’s because most weary style watchers missed this year’s quiet debut of Guillaume Henry at the revived house of Carven. Carmen de Tommaso, Carven’s founder, turns 101 on July 12, and she should be smiling because the long, tall blue-eyed Henry is doing the best things at her old house.  On Monday he joined Paris’s primo vintage specialist Didier Ludot for a garden party, complete with freshly laid grass in the Palais Royal gardens in front of Ludot’s vintage shop. The visual “conversation” the two staged concerned a 1956 Carven original from Ludot’s collection, which Henry redid as an LBD for Ludot’s spin-off vintage-inspired label.  Henry updating the silk organza original in technical taffeta and added a belt from his fall 2010 Carven collection.  Surrounded by Ludot’s painstakingly assembled Carven originals, the new model looks like a promising great grandchild. Carven has installed a pop-up shop at Ludot’s for the month of July for this limited edition dress and select pieces from fall Carven will be available there firstt.