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On Wednesday night, I died and went to French fashion heaven

Valentino Couture - www.MyFrenchLife.org

In my short life, there have been few moments that a work of art has made me stop and reconsider my perspective on the world. On my third visit to the Tate Modern in London, I sat in front of one of Monet’s ‘Water-lilies‘ for 30 minutes. In Paris, at the Musée d’Orsay, I could have stared at the eyes of Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Self-Portrait‘ for hours.

Argue as you will, but fashion to me is an art form. It’s very different to a painting or a sculpture, of course. But if art can change your life, then so can fashion. And, unlike many in our fast-paced, spend-thrift cultures, the French understand that it’s important to take time to appreciate these things. Art, fashion, food – they’re not merely passing fancies. They’re doors to a whole new world of understanding and appreciation.

The world of French haute couture

I remember the first time I was truly drawn into the world of fashion shows and haute couture – the first time I understood that they weren’t simply clothes I could never afford.

It was the AW 2011 collection from Miu Miu – the brainchild of famed designer Miuccia Prada (mentioned in my previous article on Chanel). A refined and well-curated combination of the forties, glitter and silk; it was wearable and inspired.

Raf Simons for Dior SS 12 - www.MyFrenchLife.org

Next, it was Raf Simon’s debut haute couture collection for Dior last year (pictured above). While many critics were disappointed, I was enthralled. I loved every piece; every silhouette and embellishment. Elegant simplicity is harder to master than elaborate phantasmagoria (think John Galliano and Jean-Paul Gaultier for the latter). Simons executed this masterfully.

Welcome to French fashion heaven

I had a similar moment this past Thursday morning (Wednesday evening Paris time). I only had to see a handful of photographs and I knew.

Ever an admirer of Valentino for their refined elegance, I always expect to enjoy their haute couture collections at Paris Fashion Week. But this time, I was to marvel.

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In the same way that Simons gave haute couture an elegant simplicity at Dior, the Valentino Haute Couture AW13 collection featured balanced silhouettes, which gave their embellishments the feeling of being refined rather than ostentatious.

Though we often disagree, Lisa Armstrong of the ‘Telegraph’ and I saw eye-to-eye on this point: “Some designers become so smitten with the expertise of their ateliers that their couture collections get mired in technical pyrotechnics – embellishment for embellishment’s sake.”

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From the designs to the backdrop – every item, every detail had its place. Decorated like a Natural History Museum, or a shop of curiosities, the setting was, as Susannah Frankel of Grazia UK described, “a particularly discerning collector’s dream which sat well with the layer upon layer of knowledge – both technical and ideas-based – that ran through their extraordinarily beautiful and exceptionally refined show.”

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While I could continue to wax lyrical into the dying hours of the day, I prefer to let the images speak for themselves.

Unfortunately I couldn’t fit every outfit onto the page, but I suggest you visit ShowStudio and wile away your afternoon.

Do you think couture has a place in the world today, as an art form or otherwise, or is it just a gaspillage?

Image credits:
All via ShowStudio.
Except – 2. Raf Simons Haute Couture, via Pedestrian.


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