So after Mr Galliano's departure at Dior, we all awaited eagerly to discover who would fill those very large and sparkly shoes of his. Well, most conveniently Galliano's second-in-charge for many years, Bill Gaytten, was somewhat pressured to walk that plank... And fed to the crocodile he surely was! This gentleman bravely released Diors haute couture show for the first time in over a decade without Galliano. Oh the pressure! Not only is the world watching, but also the history of this luxury fashion mega-brand would weigh down mightily on those shoulders of his, I might imagine.
Well... His collection was slaughtered. Completely slaughtered. Style.com suggested he might be up for immediate replacement. They said:
"...the overriding sense was that a demon, long-contained, had been released, so that the Dior woman had suddenly been possessed by a disco dolly who, to the strains of Grace Jones, would blow out her hair and rampage to the nearest dance floor in a molto-bat-winged hostess gown that perfectly captured the campiness of cult-fave TV play Abigail's Party."
As entertaining as this paraphrase might be, I was unsure as to why the collection was received so badly. I thought the theme was relatively original in comparison to the endless diamante-d and feathered gowns normally slinking down the couture catwalks. And it was certainly costumey, as most Dior shows are. A little 80's maybe, but this collection had a youthful spirit, where as most of Dior's shows so severely resonate in decades, even centuries, past.
I decided to do a little research to find out why Mr Gaytten was cast so violently from the glittery couture heavens, to the darkest depths of fashion hell.
But first, some of the more reasonable pieces from the collection (If couture can ever classify couture as "reasonable")...
So what did I find out about couture?
Well firstly, couture is a word which is thrown around quite frequently yet, I have discovered, probably incorrectly. To gain the legal right to classify your collection as "Haute Couture" you must adhere to certain production criteria, and then you must be included in a list written up each year by a council of industry insiders. The criteria includes:
There is also a huge amount of special attention paid to he quality of the materials and construction techniques. My wonderful pattern maker, Linda Petuchovas, worked with me after spending several years at Chado Ralph Rucci (Classified American couturier). She showed me a garment made there, and the stitching could be seen neither on the inside nor the outside. Sewn completely together by hand, it was like the two different pattern pieces just magically blended together.
Another reality of couture is the cost... A couture garment will sell for at least 10's of thousands of pounds however can reach up to 100's of thousands.
Now who, where and how large is the market for haute couture???
Well, there is now less then 500 women across the globe who are clients for this kind of product. Most of them are over 50 years old and most of them are from the Middle East. Apparently in the fittings it would not be uncommon for a client to cry "Oh lengthen sleeves! Take the hem past my knees! Make it blue not red! Oh I saw a celebrity wear this garment - cancel it immediately!" And why shouldn't they when you pay that kind of money for a garment you will probably only wear once.
But what about the designers and the collections? Well what are they to do other than attempt to appeal to that very tiny, very particular market? These kind of conditions are possibly the worst for artistic integrity and creative process. A shame considering haute couture is considered the highest of highs when it comes to the fashion industry. It possibly explains why poor Bill Gaytten was slammed so severely... Could you see an elderly Middle-Eastern woman wearing when of those acid-pop dresses? Surely not.
Fortunately, I would like to finish with one woman who perhaps is the light at the end of the tunnel for any aspiring couture designers... Daphne Guinness. Perhaps the most visually daring woman of this market and also the greatest couture collector of our time (She actually bought Isabella Blow's entire wardrobe after here death), Guinness definitely gives Lady Gaga a run for her money.
Ode to Daphne Guinness...
All imagery from http://daphneguinness.tumblr.com/