Yamamoto subverts traditions of Paris couture

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The Independent Online

Some people were born to ruffle Establishment feathers. One such person is the great Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto.

His show, which opened the autumn/winter haute couture season in Paris yesterday, took the traditions of the Paris ateliers and subverted them beautifully. Traditional silks were contrasted with denim and even PVC. Extravagant oversized hats with their origins in Christian Dior's New Look boasted jaunty sun visors. Court shoes were cast aside in favour of towering platforms: a hybrid of an Adidas trainer and a geisha shoe.

Yamamoto, 59, began showing on the Paris fashion stage in 1981; his dark, distressed, asymmetrical designs overthrowing preconceptions of what is possible in dress. It is remarkable that he is still causing ripples in what remains a rarefied world.

One year ago, the designer who formerly showed his ready-to-wear line in March and October alongside more than 80 other labels, brought it forward by three months - to January and July - to show as part of the far more elitist haute couture. The couture is fashion's most extravagant loss-leader: only a handful of fashion's great names appear on the official catwalk schedule.

Yamamoto's clothes, while hardly reasonably priced, are ultimately grounded in commercial reality which, perhaps perversely, simply won't do. The couture houses are notoriously secretive over the cost of garments, but it is believed that a day suit comes in at upwards of $20,000 (£12,000). Yamamoto's more elaborate pieces rarely exceed the $2,000 mark.

Didier Grumbach, head of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Française, told Women's Wear Daily last week that he still disapproves of Yamamoto's decision. "It's not the right season," he said. "But it's still another reason to come to Paris for couture, even if the way it's done is irregular."

It is a measure of Yamamoto's stature that the international fashion fraternity is prepared to fly in to Paris a day early to see his Sunday night show - the couture collections officially start this morning.

Grumbach is right on one count at least - anything that boosts fashion's profile warrants his support. Worries abound that this season's couture attendance will be poor given the aftermath of the Iraqi conflict, anti-French sentiments in the US, Sars in Asia, a surging euro and continued economic instability.

It's small wonder that the Chambre Syndicale has invited new blood onto the hitherto sacred scene. Yves Saint Laurent's muse, Loulou de la Falaise, will be showing her ready-to-wear collection, as will the fur house Revillon. Italian couture newcomer Grimaldi Giardina, sponsored by Emanuel Ungaro, will also be unveiling its catwalk debut.

Some of the grandest old names are not amused by such measures. The house of Chanel, worried that the exclusive lure of the haute couture might be dwindling, is apparently considering moving its haute couture collection to New York next January. "Couture must remain very exceptional and exclusive," Chanel's president, Françoise Montenay, told Women's Wear Daily. "If things are getting too sad here, we might go [to New York]."

It is difficult to imagine this happening. The last person who tried to move the haute couture out of Paris was Adolf Hitler during the Occupation. Hefailed and might have done well to heed Mussolini, who said: "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."

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