Couture

Maud Lescroart, the CMO of Sophie Hallett, the family-run French lace maker that seems to supply – well, pretty much everyone in fashion – is in New York this week for Wedding Week, and stopped by the office the other day to discuss her company’s life since the royal wedding (Hallett supplied the lace that covered the bodice of Kate Middleton’s Sarah Burton Alexander McQueen gown). Between four key factors: 1) the spotlight cast by the palace fairy tale; 2) the focus on the hand-made and heritage as key to luxury’s appeal; 3) the growing attention to CSR and the desire to control all parts of the supply chain; and 4) and the imperative in the luxury industry to ensure a reliable source of key materials, which has seen big groups buying up skins houses (LVMH and Heng Long; Hermes and Tanneries d’Annonay) and cashmere specialists (LVMH’s purchase of Loro Piana in 2013; Chanel’s purchase of Barrie knitwear in 2012), they have gone from behind-the-scenes player to suddenly very hot property. Read more

Given the obsessive attention routinely paid to what Michelle Obama or Samantha Cameron wears, it struck me that when Michelle Bachelet was sworn in as president of Chile this month, no one mentioned what she wore: a long navy jacket and matching skirt with a red, white and blue presidential sash.

Even more notably, in a photo taken that day, Bachelet was sandwiched between Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff, who was wearing a black straight skirt and a black and white plaid collarless jacket with black lace appliqué, and Argentina’s president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, in a white lace dress under a white car coat with white open-toe platform pumps. And no one said anything about them either.

During the penultimate day of the Paris ready-to-wear collections, just before the Alexander McQueen show, was an event that, given the circumstances, might strike many as odd.

By all rights, designer Dries Van Noten could be excused for being a bit grand. We meet a few days after his wildly applauded Paris menswear show and just over a month before his womenswear collection, one of the hottest tickets of fashion week thanks to Van Noten’s ability to combine the elaborate (extreme embroidery) with the ethnic (far-flung tribal references) and the casual (tailored khakis) – plus, last season, a live soundtrack courtesy of Colin Greenwood, Radiohead’s bass player.

Kiev was burning and in Milan, Jeremy Scott made his debut at Moschino with a series of bad jokes. This is not the non sequitur it might first appear. Mr Scott could not have known, of course, when he was designing his riff on Moschino/McDonald’s – his pun on fast food and fast fashion realised in red and yellow bourgeois suiting complete with golden arches-cum-hearts or Sponge Bob yellow and black polka dots, his evening silks with junk food prints, his gold-chain-bedecked quilted leather mini suits – what would be going on in the world when it was shown. But that does not matter.

Big Pants
Not the Bridget Jones variety – rather, the wide-legged, generously slouchy, swish-as-you walk kind. Blame it on the overarching trend of the season: a return to comfort dressing – or a simple fashion reaction to the past few seasons of skin-tight rocker trousers. Either way, for autumn/winter the trousers on the catwalk are, finally, almost entirely on the upped-side. This is good news physically (they can hide a multitude of issues) and emotionally too; they have the comfort factor of a good pair of sweatpants. Whether in double-faced cashmere or malleable leather, they can go from office to sofa with just a change of top. Daniel Cleaver and Mark Darcy would approve.

It is one of life’s great ironies that the Paris couture shows always coincide almost exactly with the World Economic Forum in Davos. While the latter focuses on the looming issues of the day – the growing gap between the super-rich and pretty much everyone else, for example – the former caters to said super-rich and to their willingness to contemplate €20,000 gowns. It’s a stark contrast, in black and white and gold and silver.

It’s about now that a film studio’s fancy turns to thoughts of awards. They need to get their Oscar/Bafta/Golden Globe contenders in by the end of the year, and general wisdom dictates that it is always better to save the most powerful for the end, so that they remain fresh in voters’ minds.

So the holiday season coincides with the release of high-minded movies such as Philomena , Dallas Buyers Club and The Book Thief – films that deal with big subjects such as adoption and motherhood, terminal illness and the Holocaust, as opposed to, say, superheroes and aliens, or bachelors on the loose. And as in film, so in fashion.

Bare essentials

Blame it on Michelle Obama’s elegant arms and the related tricep/bicep workout craze, but women want to show off their upper limbs like never before and there are few ways to do so as stylishly as in a one-shoulder top. Once upon a time, a bare shoulder was almost a synonym for disco nights, but these versions are altogether more grown-up, polished and accessible. Read more

It’s too bad EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht wasn’t at the couture shows last week. It would have given him lots of ammunition during this week’s EU-US free trade talks (presuming they go ahead) when the question of the French exception culturelle is raised. After all, the fashion industry is not covered – not even the made-to-order highest end of it, as invented and perfected in Paris. What became increasingly clear during the collections is that, other than location, couture no longer seems to have much to do with France.

Part of this is literal: of the big brand names still on the couture schedule, only one, Jean Paul Gaultier, is actually designed by a Frenchman. The rest are created by Belgians (Dior, Martin Margiela Artisanale), Dutch (Viktor & Rolf), German (Chanel), Italians (Versace, Armani, Valli, Valentino), Russians (Ulyana Sergeenko) and Lebanese (Elie Saab). But most of it is aesthetic.