Paris Couture Part 1: Up Up and Away

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Published July 6, 2009

Jumping through hoops is business as usual for a young Parisian designer so the fact that Alexis Mabille, the newest name on Paris’s couture calendar, kicked off the spring/summer menswear shows here 10 days ago, didn’t mean he wasn’t ready to turn around and do the same thing for couture bright and early Monday morning. (LEFT: COURTESY OF ALEXIS MABILLE) Paris couture week covers three days with shows from the big houses (Chanel, Valentino, Givenchy, Jean Paul Gaultier, Christian Lacroix, Giorgio Armani and Christian Dior) interspersed with young designers and small houses hoping to attract the attention of the international fashion press before they trade in stilettos for SPF50+. Alexis Mabille has been riding a big wave since Carla Bruni Sarkozy, wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who’s usually in Christian Dior, wore his little black dress with a big signature bow across the chest from the designer’s January couture show. That could have been a fluke, or what the French call “copinage” (friends helping friends)—but in this case, it’s actually an indication of fresh talent.

Chanel Joaillerie

 

So what does a young, aspiring couturier do today?  If you’re Mabille,  with  a whimsical sense of decadence and a certain old world pizzazz flowing in your veins, you start with a linen handkerchief edged in lace  and turn it into a  mini dress. Mabille raided the linen closet for tablecloth lace which he mixes with fresh cotton eyelet for  flirty summer dresses, some worn over gold lamé shorts and sky high sandals trimmed with python bows. Forget the fact that this is couture’s Fall 09/10 season, Mabille showed Spring/Summer 10 a full three months before the rest.

Christian Lacroix was on France’s evening news last night to discuss the plight of his house, which is in receivership. Lacroix, who will present a show anyway on Tuesday spoke with nostalgia about the art of couture, his house’s 125 employees and the fact that his fabric suppliers donated the material for this show  because “we all want to prove what we can do.” Lacroix opened his house 22 years go with funding from Bernard Arnault’s LVMH, but found himself with a new parent company four years ago when Arnault sold the “chronically unprofitable” brand to Florida-based Falic group, which runs duty free shops. When Lacroix was launched it was the first new couture house in decades, a chance to prove that a fresh name could become  a luxury brand.  The situation today brings that debate full circle.

While it’s estimated that there are still just as many women in the world who are potentially haute couture customers, it’s true that less of them are buying and the ones who do are increasingly from the Middle East, Russia, China and other emerging markets which until recently have been churning out the new super rich at a furious pace. These ladies also buy Haute Joaillerie, and during couture, the Place Vendôme, home to many of the world’s biggest names in bijoux (Cartier, Boucheron, Van Cleef & Arpels, Chaumet), show off their latest. Chanel Joaillerie constructed a replica of the Place Vendôme, complete with it’s central column, made from 150,000 specially created crystal Lego pieces in its store as a backdrop for its “Lumière” collection, which, as the Chanel-suited press lady who gave me the tour explained, is “meant to highlight the love between women, jewelry and the light that emanates from this menage à trois.” This translates into a diamond encrusted sunburst which recalls the medallions on the wrought iron balconies of the Place Vendôme and  one of Mademoiselle Chanel’s first  jewelry  designs from 1932, thick ropes of pearls  encircled with impossibly thin diamond knots and diamond ribbons  for earrings, rings and watches so thin they look like spun sugar.