Haute Couture

You can start laughing now.

If you’re not laughing yet, realize that fashion is never a word that has belonged in the same sentence with my name. Maybe I would be at the height of it if I walked into a medieval castle, a Civil War ballroom, or a British tea party–but as for the fashions of today, I’ve been chronically clueless since I was old enough to dress myself.

That’s not to say I don’t like to look good in my clothes. Or that I don’t have a sense of taste (however eclectic it may be). But I’d consider that more “personal style,” a notion of what I like and what looks good on me, than an awareness of what Parisian designers are sending down the runways this season.

However, in the last few months, fashion hasn’t been as far away from me as in the past. For one, my mom and I have been faithfully following a BBC show from the ’90s, The House of Eliott, which follows a pair of sisters who start their own fashion house in 1920s London. Besides having a great story with compelling characters, the show’s costumes are gogglingly gorgeous. And as I learn more about sewing and design, it helps me to better understand an industry that once seemed mysterious and ridiculous.

Beatrice and Evangeline Eliott, protagonists of  The House of Eliott

Last month I also went with my grandparents to a San Francisco museum exhibition of fashion by Jean Paul Gaultier in San Francisco. Though Gaultier is known as the enfant terrible of French fashion and I would never actually wear any of the outfits I saw on display, it was a fascinating glimpse into fashion as an art and science. The very name haute couture (French, of course) means “high sewing.”

Gaultier fashions on mannequins with moving faces!

In addition to the costumes themselves (displayed on mannequins with moving faces!), there was a documentary tracking the last 48 hours leading up to a Gaultier fashion show. Backstage, away from all the paparazzi cameras and snobbish facial expressions, was a busy hive of incredibly talented seamstresses who specialized in turning one man’s eye for whimsy into precise creations of stitches and sequins. Every garment for a fashion show is made completely by hand, some of them representing 200 man-hours or more.

A galleon headdress made entirely out of red beads

There’s also an enormous amount of creativity involved. Again, while I didn’t see any of the garments as really wearable for myself, conceptually I found them very interesting. Gaultier experimented with unexpected materials and combinations: artificial crocodile skin and crochet, knit and tulle, gold lame and seashells, leather and feathers, even human hair. He also chose themes for his fashion shows that tickled my fancy as a writer: mermaids, madonnas, even human body systems.

So, while you may never catch a glimpse of high fashion in my wardrobe, I have gained some respect for the field as a creative art and a highly skilled craft. I do prefer wearing my personal style, though. It’s my humble opinion that people always look best wearing what suits them, rather than whatever happens to be trending at the moment.

And now I pass the fashion-commentary baton to those more qualified. For further reading, check out this mash-up:

Bear Ears: original knit designs and patterns
Cafes and Closets: vintage and gothic style blog
Adelle Gabrielson: shoe love
Fashion from Literature: modern-day outfits for literary characters
My Disney Fashion Dreams: Disney-character-inspired fashion collages

What are your thoughts on fashion, style, and haute couture?