This is the time of year when I start to worry that I have tinnitus, thanks to a constant refrain in my ear caused by those in search of party dresses and presents: “What should I buy? There is so much to buy. But there’s nothing to buy. Why is there nothing to buy? What should I buy? There is so much to buy … ”

The Chambre Syndicale, French fashion’s governing body, has just announced Versace is returning to the couture schedule eight years after leaving it due to cutbacks. Is this good news? Or rather, is it enough good news?
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I am sitting at my desk, looking at a pile of three new books. So far, so normal. But consider the titles of the books: Chanel: an Intimate Life (by Lisa Chaney, 2011); Intimate Chanel (Isabelle Fiemeyer, 2011); Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War (Hal Vaughan, 2011). Plus, as it happens, these three are actually sitting atop two other books I received last year: Coco Chanel, the Legend and the Life (Justine Picardie, 2010) and Dreaming of Chanel (Charlotte Smith, 2010). Notice anything?

The Dior third quarter 2011 results are in and, contrary to what everyone predicted back in March when Dior designer John Galliano was fired for saying bad stuff, they are good. In fact, they are very good. What do we make of this? The conclusions, it seems to me, are pretty obvious.

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The old cliché about learning from history or being doomed to repeat it – the one that has been much in the news lately thanks to the Palestinian push for statehood and the current European and US economic situation – is an axiom one would think fashion might know something about; after all, designers have been studying the past and trying not to repeat pretty much every season since seasons began. How else would they get anyone to buy anything, and thus avoid their own destruction?

In the category of make-big-news-seem-so-unimportant-people-might-just-miss-it, I would like to nominate today’s press release from Louis Vuitton, entitled “LVMH announces that Jordi Constans will join Louis Vuitton.”

Now, say that arrived in your inbox. What would you think? Who is Jordi Constans? what will he do? Does this matter to me? Read more

Just so you know, that title is meant literally. If it read metaphorically, I might have had to say “the future of couture” or “the meaning of couture,” for this morning Azzedine Alaia — yes — ended the couture season and was effectively elevated from designer to national treasure.

Returning to the fashion calendar after eight years, he produced a no-frills (well, not literally; there were frills, tiers of them — but no bells and whistles) couture collection in front of an audience that included the French Minister of Education, the ambassador from Jordan, designers Marc Newson and Pierre Charpin, and women in more Alaia than I’ve ever seen, including in the Tunisian-born designer’s own store. And he demonstrated pretty effectively that couture is above all about the clothes, as opposed to concept or image or branding. Read more

Today, Jean-Paul Gaultier introduced a new idea to his women’s couture catwalk: men.

Interspersed with the models in extraordinary elegant feathered and silk creations were dudes in equally elaborate silk and velvet skirts, fur and feather capes, and some very startling beaded leggings. Read more

Chanel dethrones Napoleon - and replaces him with Coco. 

Well, not literally, but conceptually. Following their now-signature “more is more” approach to shows, Chanel recreated Place Vendôme inside the Grand Palais for its couture, complete with nine glass lamp-posts and a soaring neon-tuned plinth topped by - yes - a statue of Coco, instead of the Little Emperor. Not sure about that symbolism, really. What were they saying? We dream big? We are going to rule the world? We forgot pride goeth before a fall? Read more

Today Christian Dior effectively opened the couture season with a “team” effort from the atelier under Bill Gaytten, John Galliano’s long term design director. There are earlier shows, but it’s the first big one.

A nice way to describe the result is to say it was a really good example of why a house needs a designer. Or more specifically, a point of view; an idea about what, exactly, it is doing and why. Read more

I have weddings on the brain this week. Not just because my parents have been married 50 years today – mazel tov – but because we are approaching the second big wedding event of the summer: the nuptials of the other Kate the Great, and all the designer-related opportunities therein. Whether Kate Moss marries her fiancé, Kills guitarist Jamie Hince, next Saturday as announced or this coming Friday as rumoured (to throw off all those photographers, who aren’t Mario Testino, hiding in the bushes), or some other time entirely (always possible), you can be sure of one thing: whatever she wears will set wedding dress trends for the foreseeable future.

John Galliano appears before a Paris court

John Galliano appears before a Paris court – AFP

And so John Galliano’s trial has started in Paris, and one question has been answered: would the designer appear in court in full-fledged character-bedecked glory – as, say, Napoleon, or an urchin, or the artist Rene Grau, as he did after many of his most famous shows for his former brand, Christian Dior – or would he play himself?


Mr Galliano is standing trial for allegedly making anti-Semitic remarks to customers in a Paris café  this year. Read more

In all the rumours floated about who would be the next big creative director at Dior, from names old (Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci, Lanvin’s Alber Elbaz, Vuitton’s Marc Jacobs) to new-ish (Haider Ackerman and Sarah Burton) one that hasn’t been mentioned but has, I discovered, actually been called, is perhaps the most surprising of all: Azzedine Alaia. I had heard whispers, but he just confirmed it.

To be fair, from a sheer talent point of view, this is not surprising: Mr Alaia is often voted by his peers one of the most influential designers ever (really ever; not just of the 20th century), and has been building a house of singular vision for decades.

He is also one of the last hands-on couturiers, beloved by his atelier. Part of the conundrum facing Dior is they need a designer who can work with the couture, and most youngsters, brought up on ready-to-wear, don’t have the know-how. Read more

The Cannes Film Festival has had its first few star-studded days yet it seems to me that the most pressing question thrown up thus far is not which movie will win the Palme d’Or. Nor is it what fabulous series of dresses jury member Uma Thurman is wearing on the red carpet or even how the restored version of A Clockwork Orange is received, but rather: is Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, first lady of France, pregnant?

The couture shows, which ended yesterday, were lovely, but not particularly buzzy; even Jean-Paul Gaultier’s decision to make Andrej Pejic, the boy model who looks kind of like a girl model, his bride, didn’t elicit more than slightly raised eyebrows from his audience: “Oh, him again?” Instead, the most-talked-about award goes to a 25-year-old Parisian called Maxime Simoens, whose clothes are fine – they are actually very high-end ready-to-wear, and involve well-cut little dresses in interesting prints, pieced long gowns, the occasional feather or leather applique – but whose strategic mind, when it comes to building a modern fashion business, is really interesting. Read more

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I suppose it’s a natural extension of the high/low give and take that currently fuels fashion: if H&M and Zara can be inspired by what they see on branded catwalks, and ready to wear brands can make their own premium jeans, why can’t couture?

Well, one might say, because, paying couture sums (the average couture dress or suit clocks in over €10,000) for jeans is just – dumb. But apparently Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel’s designer, has a little PT Barnum in him, and is out to prove there’s a sucker born every minute, because today he showed faded, skinny jeans with diamante ankle buttons as part of his couture. Read more

Though Nicholas Sarkozy, for obvious reasons, is generally regarded as the most fashion-forward French politician (there’s his wife, for one, and his close friendship with LVMH chieftain Bernard Arnault, who was a witness at the Bruni-Sarkozy wedding, not to mention his penchant for flashy watches), it turns out the French left is just as intertwined with the fashion world, although in a rather more discrete, long-term sort of way.  Read more

One of the more surprising collaborations of the season was unveiled last night in the gardens of the Bulgari Hotel in Milan, amid tinkling champagne glasses and tiny lacquered pots of mozzarella and steamed Branzino. Read more

Catherine Walker, the Frenchwoman who became one of Princess Diana’s favourite designers and helped modernise British royal couture, died last Friday, age 65. On Sunday, the news reached the fashion flock in Milan, and the mood off the runway was dim. Read more

It takes something fairly monumental to stop the juggernaut of a fashion week. Well that happened today – Monday – at 11am. Bang went the momentum that was building in the British fashion capital, and in came the memorial for deceased designer Alexander McQueen, at a venue he could have only dreamed of, St Paul’s Cathedral. Read more