Courturier Superstar | Belle Epoque pub |Coat hangersPicture
Couturier Superstars
by Carol Mongo

dressing for success

On the sleek activities front, the summer months can be bleak, here. The smart crowd takes off for chic vacation destinations, leaving behind trendy clubs and cafés which either close down or are relinquished to T-shirt clad tourists. Still, when it comes to cultural events, this capital loves to boost its image with style expos that leave a lasting impression in the minds of its warm weather visitors. This time ’round, the Musée de la Mode et du Textile hosts “Couturier Superstar” which examines the “push and pull” rapport between the world of high fashion and the media.
Often “blown up” to larger-than-life proportions, the image of the fashion designer and the ethereal world around him — along with the products he creates — is the result of hyper-creative, carefully maneuvered publicity campaigns.
The actual apparel produced by various designers is, of course, a vital aspect of the show but other identity-defining factors are also explored: logos, magazine coverage, advertisements and filmed interviews. All part of a huge jigsaw that illustrates the evolution toward a context that has increasingly come to recognize the couturier as an artist.
Until the 18th century, both tailors and designers were considered as technicians. Silhouettes rarely varied, the only real difference from one garment to the next being between the choice of fabric and additional “ornamentation.”
Rose Bertin, a clothing merchant, was the first major figure to impose a predetermined choice of materials on her clientele, that was almost exclusively comprised of queens and princesses. Her creations were based more on “garnishing” than cut. Eminently pivotal, the ultimate 19th century “icon” was Charles Worth, considered the founder of modern fashion. A “dictator of style” before the expression was coined, he was responsible for instilling haute couture’s codes, introducing the notion of seasonally renewed collections and presenting his designs on live models.
At the beginning of the 20th century, couturiers like Jacques Doucet or Paul Poiret added an extra facet to their image, as they were art collectors. Through his links with painters and filmmakers, Poiret threw bridges between his field of activity and other disciplines. Madeleine Vionnet went a step further by insisting that designer attire should be protected by copyright, as is the case with other works of art.
But, it was Coco Chanel who initially utilized the media to the full. Both a fashion designer and a model, she was the first couturier to create a “myth” around herself and her house. Brought to the fore by the press, her image was a reflection of the look that she wanted to promote: short haircuts, suntans and beach pyjamas, that stood for a simple, refined sense of luxury. She sported her own creations and was featured in Vogue’s most spectacular spreads. In her wake, other designers came up with all kinds of “distinguishing signs” — the signature on their labels became not just a means of “authenticating” each garment but a full-fledged logo that was gradually transmuted into a motif. Even a color could be a “signature” — for instance, Carven’s green or Lanvin’s blue... Then, perfumes started to be used to “denote” a couturier. Among these, Paul Poiret's “Rosine,” and Chanel’s No 5. The impact of a name could be increased via licensing agreements along the lines of Pierre Cardin’s and Christian Dior’s.
Some fashion figures went on to adopt a more radical approach to attracting publicity, beginning with Yves Saint Laurent who posed nude for his own fragrance in the 1970s. A decade later, the Paris défilés became veritable media events where designers exploited their own image, and the public started to regard them as superstars. A good many began to play with the “exposure” they got. Hence, John Galliano’s propensity to change his appearance in keeping with the theme of his latest collection. Martin Margiela, on the other hand, refuses to allow himself to be photographed. That is, except for his thumb print... Others still, have been elevated to pop star status — for example, Jean-Paul Gaultier who has recorded CDs and video clips.
“Couturier Superstar” June 5 to Sept 29, Tue-Fri 11am to 6pm, Sat & Sun 10am -to 6pm (Wed till 9pm), Musée de la Mode et du Textile, 107 rue de Rivoli, 1er, M° Louvre-Palais Royal, 5,40E

"Hiver de jeremy Scott" 2001
courtesy of Musée de la mode
"Chantal Thomas" invitation
courtesy of Musée de la mode
"Gabrielle Chanel" 1930
courtesy of Musée de la mode / Roger Schann
Gaultier CD cover
courtesy of Musée de la mode