From as early as the 1930s, Gabrielle Chanel used a baroque decor with gilt wood paneling for her fashion shows at 31 rue Cambon. The two pilasters are 17th-century Italian sculpted caryatids, which today stand on both sides of the mirror in the dining area of Mademoiselle’s apartment.By the 1960s, only a few traces of this theatrical decor remained, the overall style having disappeared. Its spirit nevertheless endures, as seen in the catwalk design for the Spring-Summer 2011 Haute Couture show, which clearly evoked the original decor and 18th-century mirrors of Coco Chanel’s apartment.Photograph on the left by Roger Schall: fashion show at 31 rue Cambon in 1938Photograph on the right by Olivier Saillant: Haute Couture show at the Pavillon Cambon Capucines in 2011
Haute Couture is woven from dreams, gold, hard work, and excellence. It is an ode to the artisans of luxury, a willed madness, a fabulous dinosaur, and a glittering Atlantis that dazzles us twice a year, bringing reassurance that in a globalized world of robotic manufacturing, a sanctuary still remains, a place where clothes are lovingly created by hand over hundreds, even thousands of hours.
The term "Haute Couture" may be legally restricted, but its poetic inspiration knows no bounds!
Today in France, Haute Couture continues to sustain artisans, workshops and suppliers who pass on their unique specialist skills to new generations. Chanel has acquired and fused several of these rare workshops together, such as embroidery from Lesage and feather work from Lemarié, ensuring that their knowledge is handed down and their artistic crafts survive.
Haute Couture is a French national treasure, yet it was invented by an Englishman, Charles Worth, at the time of Napoleon III. Barely a century after it had beheaded its king, France quickly understood that luxury could act as an inimitable ambassador for French expertise.
After Worth, couturiers such as Callot, Patou, Poiret, Vionnet and Lanvin continued to dress women beautifully, without always taking the shape of their bodies into account…
At that moment, Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, known as Coco, arrived on the scene with her hands in her pockets and a cigarette between her lips. She was surrounded by an air of nonchalance, eternal allure and insane elegance in her wonderfully fluid jersey suits and dresses, which went on to represent a real liberation for women. It seemed a natural step but someone had to invent it, someone had to have the confidence and the talent to understand what women wanted, longed for, even before they knew it themselves. Was Chanel a revolutionary, a prophet? Absolutely!
The Chanel Spring-Summer 2011 Haute Couture collection has created a dazzling bridge between the 1920s and the 21st century.
Low waists, slender busts and delicate feet encased in ballerina shoes with transparent ribbons have been combined with the colors of clouds or pearls and waves of shimmering spangles, while embroidered shirts have been paired with Couture jeans that lengthen the legs to infinity... It is a younger look that is lighter than ever, rejecting any kind of bourgeois heaviness. The collection is characterized by total grace and luxurious materials that make their mark with skilled understatement, recapturing a style that came as second nature to Coco Chanel…
Photo: Benoît Peverelli
Photographed by Benoît Peverelli