Worth, Dior, Doucet, Poiret, Lanvin, Vionnet, Givenchy, Patou, Chanel, Rochas, Jacques Heim, Nina Ricci, Schiaparelli, Jacques Fath, Balenciaga, Grès, Balmain, Carven, Cardin, Yves Saint Laurent, Courrèges, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Lacroix, Alaïa…all these names are highly evocative and synonymous with glamour, luxury , sophistication and mostly…Haute Couture.

Haute Couture Paris is the splendidly ravishing (free) exhibition at the Hôtel de Ville showcasing sumptuous creations by some of the most established and accomplished French couturiers, panning the last 120-odd years and exhibiting for the first time ever sartorial masterpieces from the collections of the parisian Galliera Museum and some which have never been seen before thus giving a unique and precious glimpse into the magical realm of haute couture, their talented and flamboyant couturiers and also their indispensible and loyal seamstresses, embroiderers and plumassiers (feather workers – yes, there’s a word for it). What I found mesmerising is the fact that despite the decades, most dresses look ever so contemporary and not out-dated. A credit to their visionary creators!

This retrospective is a tribute and hommage to this supposedly frivolous discipline and fantasy world that is clearly a métier of high art characterised by high-level of creativity and expertise. It also highlights a key industry in the French capital and reaffirms Paris as the capital of high-end fashion.

If you are feeling spontaneous this spring, I urge you to make a special trip to Paris! It makes popping over on Eurostar almost compulsory even just for the day. Get ready to be dazzled!

Details of Swaroski crystals from some of the garments on display

The exhibition enjoys the exceptional support of Swarovski whose close collaboration began in 1900 when the designer Charles Worth created garments embroidered in Swarovski crystals. Jeanne Lanvin, Gabrielle Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli made sparing use of these crystals whereas in the 1950s, Jacques Fath and Cristobal Balenciaga used extravagant amount of crystals in their collections.

Garments are displayed in free-standing vitrines giving visitors a 360-degree view

A thought-provoking selection with gowns made a century apart juxtaposed to draw out common themes


A burnt orange, funnel-neck evening coat by John Galliano for Dior (1998) stands next to a Paul Poiret version – same silhouette, same shade, similar embroidery – from seven decades earlier


A rich green Charles Worth gown from 1895 is placed beside a Christian Lacroix catwalk look from 1991 that uses the same devore technique

The looks are presented in pairs or trios to tease out similarities

A-Gent of Style
had a close look. Simply sublime

The exhibition also features a selection of artefacts, memorabilia, drawings and photographs to allow visitors a behind-the-scene experience of the process from initial design through to production:

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Watch below the video of the Swarovski Paris Haute Couture exhibition


Detail of The Muses Clio, Euterpe and Thalia (1655), by Eustache Le Sueur (1617-1655), French Baroque painter

muse  \

1- any of the nine sister goddesses in Greek mythology presiding over song, poetry, the arts and sciences

2- a source of inspiration; especially: a guiding genius

3- a poet

The concept of the muse goes all the way back to ancient Greek mythology where Zeus’s godly daughters presided artfully over different aspects of culture, inspiring its practitioners. Over the last few centuries, the term has come to define those people who fuel creative imagination, often being portrayed in various art forms such as film, fashion, poetry, paintings, music and Grazia…

Let’s meet some of the enchanting, free-spirited, challenging or tortured women or men who have been immortalised by great, visionary artists to do great works of art and let’s see how they have been inspired by their muses’ dynamism, shrewdness, promiscuity, and of course, their dangerous beauty when some of those fabled relationships were sometimes fraught with excitement, creativity, and yes… scandal. Oh la la…


Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe (1863) by Manet Edouard

Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe (1863) by Manet Edouard. Meurent is the nude sitter

Titbit: Did you know that the diminutive Victorine Meurent, nicknamed La Crevette (the shrimp), was not only Manet’s muse and a famous model for painters like Degas but that she was also an artist in her own right, who exhibited repeatedly at the prestigious Paris Salon? In 1876, her paintings were selected for inclusion at the Salon’s juried exhibition when Manet’s work was not. Their part-time sitter/lover relationship lasted just over a decade..



Mademoiselle Pogany II (1913) by Brancusi

Titbit: Margit Pogany, a Hungarian art student, met Brancusi in Paris in 1910. Photographs show that Mademoiselle Pogany had a round face with large eyes and strong eyebrows, and wore her hair in a smooth chignon. The story goes he’d made a marble head of her from memory, then invited her back to his studio weeks later. He was delighted when she recognised it: “I’m awfully pleased that I recognised myself.” This was the beginning of a 26-year collaboration.


Solarised Portrait of Lee Miller (1929)

Solarised Portrait of Lee Miller (1929) by Man Ray

Titbit: In 1929, Lee Miller became the pupil and lover of Man Ray. Amongst the countless celebrities photographed by Man Ray – Wallis Simpson, Aldous Huxley, Virginia Woolf, Picasso, Chanel, Schiaparelli, himself – the one he went back to most obsessively was Lee Miller. Despite a fall-out (in 1930 Miller fished a discarded photograph he had taken of her out of the dustbin in Ray’s darkroom and cropped it into a work of her own. He, outraged, slashed the picture’s neck and splattered the gash with drops of red ink.), the pair stayed friends for the rest of their lives. They last met in London in 1975, at Ray’s retrospective at the ICA. By then, he was in a wheelchair and Miller was a drunk, maddened by the horrors she had photographed during the Second World War.


Portrait of Dora Mar (1937), Pablo Picasso

Portrait of Dora Maar (1937) by Pablo Picasso

Titbit: Maar was Picasso’s partner during the period of his greatest political engagement. Her tragic air was caused, Picasso believed, by her inability to have children. When he threw her over for the much younger Françoise Gilot in 1943, Maar suffered a complete mental collapse, followed by nun-like seclusion. She ended her days surrounded by dust-encrusted relics of her time with Picasso. “After Picasso,” she famously declared, “only God.” Their relationship lasted seven years.



The Blue Angel (1930) by Joseph von Sternberg

The Blue Angel (1930) by Joseph von Sternberg starring Marlene Dietrich

Titbit: Dietrich would always give von Sternberg full credit for her success, “I was nothing but pliable material on the infinitely rich palette of his ideas and imaginative faculties.” Von Sternberg’s assessment was slightly different, “I did not endow her with a personality that was not her own…I gave her nothing that she did not already have. What I did was to dramatize her attributes and make them visible for all to see.” After leaving Germany, the cycle of seven films directed by von Sternberg starring Dietrich lasted seven years before they ended their professional and private relationship.



Orphée (1950) by Jean Cocteau starring Jean Marais

Titbit: Here is one of the love letters Cocteau wrote to Marais in 1939 in Paris. Their relationship lasted three decades until Cocteau’s death in 1963.

 “My Jeannot,

It is Christmas, the most wonderful Christmas of my entire life. Your heart, your body, your soul, the happiness of living and working with you are all in my stocking. One subject might be `the useful present’, of which I disapprove. As superfluous. I shall look only at the hands that give it. My Jeannot, I can never tell you often enough: thank you, thank you for your creative genius, thank you for our love.

Your Jean”



La Baie des Anges (1963) by Jacques Demy

La Baie des Anges (1963) by Jacques Demy starring Jeanne Moreau in only Cardin

Titbit:  “’It was instantaneous. I knew his reputation as a homosexual. I didn’t give a damn,’ Jeanne Moreau said. Paris was amazed and Cardin’s boyfriend was furious. He threatened suicide and had to be bought off. Their whirlwind romance in the 60s went on for five years but Cardin carried on dressing La Moreau for years to come. In 2001, she requested he made the inaugural speech when she was inducted into the French Academie des Beaux-Arts as the first woman in the Academie’s nearly 200-year history, which made her ‘une immortelle’ according to the tradition. These two icons of French culture are still, fifty years later,  ‘les meilleurs amis du monde’.



Shots of Edie Sedgwick by Andy Warhol (1966)

Shots of Edie Sedgwick by Andy Warhol (1966)

Titbit: “I’m a little nervous about saying anything about the artist, because it kind of sticks him right between the eyes, but he deserves it. He really fucked up a great many people’s, young people’s lives.” That’s what The Factory Girl Edie Sedgwick is quoted to have said about Warhol after the ‘non-couple couple’ ‘s tumultuous but significant one-year-long artistic relationship ended.



Je T'Aime Moi Non PLus (1969) by Serge Gainsbourg

Je T’Aime Moi Non PLus (1969) sung by Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg

Titbit: Distraught after the collapse of his relationship with Brigitte Bardot, Gainsbourg occupied himself with a role in the 1969 film Slogan. Playing opposite him was a charming, young English actor called Jane Birkin. Under the impression that her co-star hated her, Birkin arranged a dinner with him over which Gainsbourg, 18 years her senior, fell in love. Unfortunately, due to the amount of alcohol consumed throughout the date, the first night the pair spent together was in a hotel room … with Gainsbourg passed out drunk on the bed. One of the 60s most famous rock chicks would remain a couple until 1980, and inseparable friends until the end of Serge’s life in 1991.



Horses (1975) by Patti Smith

Horses (1975) by Patti Smith. Cover by Mapplethorpe

Titbit: In 1967, Patti Smith discovered whilst in a relationship with Mapplethorpe that he was sleeping with a young man named Terry. “If I had been going out with another woman, it would have been different,” Mapplethorpe later recounted, “But Patti couldn’t compete with a man…She went crazy.” Smith did indeed become suicidal, so she decided to take a break from her life in New York. She flew to Paris where she stayed for four months hanging out with street musicians, picking pockets and stalking the boulevards mapped out in her treasured Rimbaud biographies. She did return to NYC and Mapplethorpe and their stormy but then professional relationship carried on until 1974.



Catherine Deneuve wearing the Yves Saint Laurent's- Mondrian dress (1965-66)

Catherine Deneuve wearing the Yves Saint Laurent’s Mondrian dress (1965)

Titbit: Yves Saint Laurent once said of the great actress Catherine Deneuve: “She has always been special to me. I dressed her from the film Belle de Jour by Luis Buñuel. She is a woman who has a charm and a wonderful heart. For me, she is the biggest global star. We write often. I call her “Catherine, my sweetness,” and she sends me pale roses.” She attended his first première collection of prêt-à-porter line from his Rive Gauche store in 1966 and became his first customer. Their friendship and artistic colloboration lasted until Yves Saint Laurent’s death in 2008.


Caravaggio (1986) by Derek Jarman starring Tilda Swinton

Titbit: Derek Jarman was the radical who directed a young Swinton in seven films, from the bold ‘Caravaggio’ in 1986 to the startling ‘Edward II’ in 1991 and, finally, the magnificent ‘Blue’ in 1993. Jarman died in 1994.”I think that the fact that the first nine years of my filmmaking life were almost exclusively spent working with Derek set my habits indelibly: the miracle is that, honestly, I’ve not been aware of having had to stray too far out of the zone since. The filmmakers who have approached me seem to know the territory of my interests and contribution and be up for it”, Swinton reminisces.


A Single Man (2009) by Tom Ford

A Single Man (2009) by Tom Ford starring Julianne Moore

Titbit: Ford and Moore had been friends since he designed her Gucci dress for the 1998 Oscars. “There’s always trepidation when someone you know sends you a script they’ve written,” Moore reflects when Ford approached her to play Charley in his movie A Single Man. “I wasn’t cynical but I had no idea what it was going to be […]. I loved it. The movie is so soulful. It’s about loving somebody and how that connection with another human being can be the defining thing in your life.” Moore has made regular contributions to Tom Ford’s womenswear collections since he launched his eponymous company in 2011.












Last summer, Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) changed its iconic name after almost 50 years. The luxury French fashion house decided to discard the letter Y (for Yves) and rename itself “Saint Laurent Paris”.

I must have been living under a rock because I was completely unaware of this until I saw at the weekend an advert in a magazine with the ‘Saint Laurent’ logo.
It frankly puzzled me. Is this a new brand? Trying to compete with “Yves Saint Laurent”, this mammoth of fashion? How daring! How foolish! Or could it be a re-branding from YSL? But why? What would be the point? YSL does not need to be cool! Surely, Pierre Bergé wouldn’t have allowed that! Wouldn’t it be the equivalent of sartorial self-mutilation? And what would the late Yves Saint Laurent think of it if he were still alive?

Yves Saint Laurent

Yves Saint Laurent

Pierre Berge & Hedi Slimane

Pierre Berge & Hedi Slimane

What was heralded as a ‘monumental change’ was part of the then-recently appointed creative director Hedi Slimane’s rebranding strategy. His plans are to “restore the house to its truth, purity and essence using similar fonts from that time period.” and to give Saint Laurent a cooler, edgier, more ‘rock ‘n roll’ look. Courtney Love has now joined rocker Marilyn Manson for the latest Saint Laurent campaign shot by Hedi Slimane.

Courtney Love

Courtney Love

Marylin Manson

Marylin Manson

What looked like an insignificant and trivial change (“For the life of Dior, it’s just a letter!!!” some cried) divided the fashion world and caused huge debate and even ire amongst some die-hard fashionistas last summer at the anticipated reveal of the retro logo.

Slimane was ‘anointed’ Creative Director for Yves Saint Laurent last year, replacing Stefano Pilati (do you remember Anna Wintour in the September Issue going to the YSL headquarters in Paris to see previews of his new collection and asking him, politely, curtly and a tad disdainfully (close your eyes, imagine the hair bob and the dark sunnies) “I don’t see real evening on that rack, are you not doing any?” and “So, you’re not really feeling for colours!?”. Ouch. And off with his head…) after he filled in Tom Ford’s big shoes. (NB: Stefano Pilati is now
at the hem helm of Ermenegildo Zegna.)

YSL is one of the most recognizable logos in the fashion world. It was designed originally by the illustrator A.M Cassandre in 1963 the same year the company was launched by a young French designer called Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé. Interestingly, when the first boutique opened in 1966 on 21 rue de Tournon in Paris, the ready-to-wear line was called Saint Laurent Rive Gauche. Consequently, “Saint Laurent Paris” is not a far cry from the original name.

Saint Laurent Rive Gauche store in 1966

Saint Laurent Rive Gauche store in 1966

Saint Laurent Rive Gauche’s original logo reproduced for the retrospective in Paris in 2011

Saint Laurent Rive Gauche’s original logo reproduced for the retrospective in Paris in 2011

And if you are a traditionalist, don’t fret too much because the company still operates under the name Yves Saint Laurent for the Haute Couture, as will its beauty and perfume lines licensed by L’Oréal.

‘Saint Laurent Paris’ is making its debut for spring/summer 2013 when the collection hits the stores.

‘Just Saying’ Post-script – 14/04/13. Did you see the article in today Sunday Times’ Style magazine about Hedi Slimane’s Revolution not Evolution at Saint Laurent??


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