Fashion is fuelled by mythology and stories so lovely that one could be forgiven for thinking they are imaginary – or at least heavily embellished, just like the clothes that go with them. The haute couture, however, is the last bastion of such romance and, contrary to all rhyme and reason maybe, it remains very much alive.
It is a craft form realised not by superstars. Instead, while it takes a couturier to direct the skills of the petites mains who staff the Paris ateliers, many of whom trained under the likes of Yves Saint Laurent, Coco Chanel and Hubert de Givenchy, it is they who are ultimately responsible for the sheer beauty of the finished garments. When Givenchy retired, he took his final bows alongside them. It was a poignant gesture.
These people are, usually, French-born and -trained although as the Italian designers behind Givenchy (Riccardo Tisci), Valentino (Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri) and Versace go to prove, that country has its share too. They study for years, at school and on internships with fashion's great names. They pass their skills down through generations. A younger contingent is growing steadily, meaning the future of what to some is an anachronistic discipline is assured.
That is a very good thing. We may not all be able to buy haute couture, but that doesn't stop us marvelling at such painstaking and lovingly performed labour.
The men and women in question, famously, wear little white coats. Once their work is done, it is handled with little white gloves to ensure its immaculate surface is not damaged in any way.
In a world that seems to speed up by the minute and one dominated by throwaway fashion all too often created in far from ethical conditions, haute couture is at the opposite end of the spectrum. More than anything else, it takes time to create such elaborate garments, and that is perhaps the most precious commodity of them all.
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