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I Was An Undercover Client. Long Live The Haute Couture!

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It is a time for great celebration in the world of fashion. Finally, after being in a coma for many years, the Haute Couture has miraculously and quite surprisingly opened its eyes and emerged from its deathbed in style. Atelier Versace? Dior happy again? Chanel more exquisite than ever? I must admit, with a great sigh of relief, its time to be excited about fashion again.

With such ease, so many had written the Haute Couture off, calling it outdated, unnecessary, outmoded and the worst insult imaginable in the fashion world, old. Of course it made no sense. Here we are, listening to mass produced corporations calling everything from suits to sandwiches "bespoke" and the actual word "couture" has as much meaning left to it as "friend" and "like." Yes, it a different world; a world where Donatella and Karl design for H and M, and many of the great artists have been lost and replaced with game show contestants. Yet, what a hopeful, beautiful and strong gesture they have made this week, flexing their "petit mains" and showing the world who's boss.

When I was an editor at French Vogue in Paris, Galliano was at Dior and Mcqueen was at Givenchy and the Haute Couture was still something really special. It was meant not only to clothe a rare few, but also to inspire the upcoming ready to wear season. We examined every inch, every stitch, to sort of "take the temperature" or sniff out what would soon be "in the air." These exquisite collections were the foundations on which these houses stood.

There was one season, as a journalist, I actually went under cover as a Couture client. The houses were in on it and sat me with the "ladies" (who never sat with the press by the way) and I posed as an American staying at The Ritz just for Couture. I attended the sweet little lunches and cocktail parties and had fitting appointments scheduled as well. To illustrate the story, the very droll artist Jean- Phillipe Delhomme posed as my husband and together I talked clothes with girls while he acted bored to death while secretly sketching and taking notes. Oh what fun we had!

The fitting appointments were the most interesting. All the measuring and the trying on! I remember a snakeskin coat McQueen had done, and the "pearl buttons" on the Chanel jackets were larger than life actual pearls. The craftsmanship and the fits were to die for and the most unexpected point of it all was that the sleeve and skirt lengths were up to you. That is where the real couturier has a leg up on a mass produced ready to wear designer. They not only have the materials and craftspeople to make any dream come true, but they also can take risks, really push an idea and go all the way there, as the client has the look made to fit her lifestyle, her set. Transparency disappears, colors change, miniskirts become below the knee. The only rule a client could not break was to own the same dress as another client who travels in the same circles and would possibly be at the same event. Then it was between the ladies to make the call between them as to who would wear what, when and in which color. Again I have to say, Oh what fun!

So, hooray for the pendulum swinging the other way. Thanks to Donatella for saying after H and M, Atelier Versace must rise again. Thanks to Karl for turning the front row into the aisle seats! Thanks to the few houses who still practice the arts and crafts of Haute Couture. I dedicate this to all who dream of working in fashion. It is important for the industry. It really is.