Monday, November 24, 2008

Lauren Bacall, Katherine Deneuve, and HRH Princess Grace of Monaco walk into a haute couture bar.

The COMME des GARCONS line at the H&M wasn’t the only fashion event in San Fran this month. The de Young was hosting a show featuring clothes by legendary designer, Yves Saint Lauren. While the show was tiring (there were a lot of dresses), it offered a rare glimpse into the world of haute couture.

What is haute couture? It’s exclusive, made-to-measure fashions that are created for a specific customer. In France, the term is protected by law and is defined by the Chambre de Commerce et dâ Industrie de Paris. The requirements to call a collection haute couture are extreme—that’s why such collections are so rare.

The best clothes in the show are the simple dresses from the 50s and 60s that defined the career of Saint Lauren. And many of the dresses were labeled with the phrase “made to order for,” followed by names like Catherine Deneuve, HRH Princess Grace of Monaco, Diane Von Furstenberg, HRH the Duchess of Windsor, and Lauren Bacall.

I will say, the craftsmanship on many of the dresses was mind-boggling. The beading, embroidering, rhinestones, appliqué, and other time-intensive work—always done by hand—were spectacular. It’s no surprise these dresses cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Some of the most outrageous works came in the form of wedding dresses. Take the hand-knit, wool wedding dress that looked like a giant cocoon. I couldn’t stop thinking that the outfit would make for one hot, itchy bride. Balance that with the barely-there, floral wedding dress on the opposite end of the gallery. This was nothing more than a gauzy wisp of fabric and a few strategically placed silk roses. I know which dress the groom would prefer.

All in all, this show was too much. The crowded galleries made the most spectacular clothes seem ordinary. I think the show would have been better in a bigger space, or with fewer clothes. But it was still fun to see fashion at its best.

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