Friday, November 25, 2011

DICHOTOMY - Jakarta Fashion Week 2012

The 2nd time I'm showing at the Jakarta Fashion Week under my own label, and this time , I was incredibly honored to be picked out of obscurity by Femina Group (Mr. Diaz Parsada), to represent a mega brand in celebrating the launch of their new product, NOKIA N9.

So the mood is different, the pressure is 4 times the usual. While I usually put out a collection and put my name under the line, this time it is also NOKIA, and the nice people from Femina Group who decided to pick me.

This is also my 1st wholesale/ready-to-wear collection (so all you buyers and business people interested, don't hesitate to call me), so the whole conceptual is under the bridge now, this is all about the clothes and the fact that it needed to be wearable, every single piece.

So hopefully you readers like the collection, feel free to contact me!

Models: Tari, Nadya Purwoko, Vivi, Chika, Caroline, Brenda, Wita, Carissa, Lita Chan, Filantropi, Sarah Azka, Dhenok
Coreography: Wawan Soeharto
Shoes: WED's for Yosafat

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The 4 Designers

In my eyes there are 4 types of fashion designer: The Architect, The Romanticist, The Story Teller, and The Practical. Strange as it seems I can always categorize the designers in all 4 major fashion capital into these 4 categories, and they are amazing in their own way, and they're not always either or, they could also be both an architect and a romanticist, or a particularly romantically practical. But let me explain to you what I mean by these.

The Practical, also known as the sporty or the cool designers are the type of designers that you see their collections and they don't necessarily tell you a story or anything, but somehow you are drawn to buy their clothes. Their look is distinct, and generally singular enough that you can tell that a person is wearing their design. These kinds of designers mostly grow successful in New York City, where practicality is a very important thing in American fashion.

For example, on top of my head is Mr. Michael Kors. Coming to a Michael Kors fashion show, you don't expect a big creative extravaganza, you just see clothes that are desirable for rich women who loves fashion and yet don't want to wear 7 layers of corset just to look luxurious. It's true that New York is the perfect breeding place for these kinds of designers. From the old fashion type like Donna Karan to the younger generation like Thakoon and Prabal Gurung are the perfect example of the new generation of the Practical group.

Michael Kors -

Distinct traits: Rarely does a garment consist of too many undergarment, never too fussy or difficult to wear, very modern and somewhat simple, in a collection the most part of it is the daywear.

The Romanticist, also known as the poet are the type of designers that makes you dream through their clothes. There's always a romantic flare to their collection that getting an item from their collection is like getting a companion that has a long story to it. Sometimes with this kind of designers, practicality is not the main component, and yet their clothes are generally very beautiful and dreamy. These kinds of designers love drama, but a controlled kind of drama.

These kinds of designers I love to watch the most. They put so much love and passion into their work, you can see the collection talk to you. Most of their works looks like Haute Couture pieces that are not only beautiful but also very precious and that is something that you can pass on from generation to generation.

Vera Wang is one of our lovely romanticists that has a success story. There's something about her work, the way she always treats he clothes and how she layers things like layering tulle over organza and it makes it look like clouds. They are not the most accessible of all clothes but they make you dream and that's the important thing. Giambattista Valli is one of my favorite romanticist, Olivier Theyskens' works also excites me season after season, while Jason Wu is our new protege in the fashion romanticist universe that also caught my attention. Alber Elbaz for Lanvin and Rick Owens are the kind of romanticists who keep their ideals and yet still very successful in the business.

Giambattista Valli -

Distinct traits: Volume-layers-corsetry-intricate undergarments are common in this type of designers, dramatic but still wearable, a lot of evening pieces generally.

On that note, there are several romanticist who are also happen to be a practical kind of designer as well! Dries Van Noten who is one of my favorites manages to combine poetry and romance with simplicity. His works are always very simple, but the way he uses prints and colors are somehow very poetic. Dolce & Gabbana could also be put in this category, they manages to be one of the most commercial brand in the business but never leave behind a great story or inspiration behind every collection.

The third kind is the Architect. The Architect respects techniques more than results. The simplest look could be achieved with the most difficult ways possible. But because of that perfectionist nature of their aesthetic they are the most appreciated. An Architect must know how to construct a design from scrap. They most of the time knows how to not only design but also cut and sew. As important as the theme, inspiration and story line for them, the work that goes behind it is still the most important.

Architecture and construction is also a main focus of these kinds of designers. Their designs are mostly focusing on the cuts. Embellishments are added to accentuate the cuts rather than as a main focus of the outfit itself.

Of course the first and the greatest of the fashion architects is Cristobal Balenciaga. Famous as being the only couturier in his time who can make a garment from sketching to finishing all by himself, and wouldn't mind cutting a dress himself if he doesn't see it being perfect. Luckily his successor Nicholas Ghesquiere shares the same idealism. In the 80s we also know the late Gianfranco Ferre and Giorgio Armani, and while now Francisco Costa of Calvin Klein and Raf Simmons for Jil Sander could be pointed out as the modern fashion architects.

Balenciaga -

Distinct traits: the looks are generally very simple, intricate and complicated construction, embellishment are generally minimum and are used to accentuate the cut, they're not always the most colorful of most designers, perfect sewing and execution.

A romanticist architects happen to also exist nowadays. My most favorite is Ricardo Tisci of Givenchy, who combines his flare of drama with the incredible and impeccable techniques which made exceptional collections, especially the haute couture collections.

While a practical architects are also budding and getting very successful. Pheobe Philo for Celine has proved that you can be constructed and still very minimal and yet commercial at the same time.

The last one is the Story-Teller, mostly resides in Paris, though the newer generation emerges a lot London. A story teller designer lives a fantasy world with their collections. Not only they are brilliant designers, their collections took you to places, even some place that doesn't exist in real life.

Famous for being dramatic and over the top sometimes, their fashion shows are always the ones to watch. Though much of the sellable interpretation might be not as passionate or as dramatic as the runway version. They are not afraid of colors, prints, bold silhouette, and certainly not afraid to shock and be controversial, raising a lot of questions and somehow, sometimes, scares you.

Techniques are always complicated with these kinds of designers, but merely to support their concept and the story line of their collection.

For the most of it, these kinds of designers did not exist until the 90s. The earlier generation of these l'enfant terrible is Jean Paul Gaultier. He was famous for putting the underwear as outerwear, which was insanely controversial back in the days. John Galliano and Alexander McQueen were also true story-teller designers, their collections year after year didn't stop shocking people, in true fashion their lives are too dramatic as well. McQueen who ended up killing himself, and Galliano who tragically ended his own career at Dior with his racial slur.

Alexander McQueen-the Met Exhibition

Distinct traits: dramatic colors-silhouette-patterns, heavy on embellishments, always have a story line with each collection, see beauty on their own ways.

A story-teller architect designer that has been getting big and big lately is Gareth Pugh. Also a British, he's famous for being dramatic and punk-ish, but still manages to show his genius cut through each garments year after year after year.

So, what kind of designer do you like?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

DOMINATRIX - Thank You Note

This collection is titled "Dominatrix" which was inspired by the images that I found of a lady with a whip and a mask wearing a leather corset. I found the word dominatrix to be kind of unique, because it also contains the word "matrix" which because of the movie had a connotation of futurism, which is something that I'm very inspired by.

Just like last time, I used a lot of cutting technique to enhance the look of a simple silhouette. Fabrics are a bit different too this time. I want the collection to be darker than usual, hence the use of all black. But each fabric has a distinct texture to it, be it the patent leather that shines, or satin that's lustrous or just plain matte black fabric. The juxtapose of three different textures is to accentuate the intricate cut of the dresses.

The Erotica Architectura collection was all about rigid and construction, while maintaining the construction, I want to tap on a different feel by seeing the movement in the garment. Looking at the image which was the main inspiration, where the lady dominatrix is holding a leather whip, looking like a fringe, I was immediately inspired to use leather and cut them off in tiny little strips to be fringes, allowing the movement to be really fluid.

But how did I get to show in the JFFF you may ask? I should thank Mr. Ichwan Thoha who recommended me to the show production team (Mr. Wawan, who was also my choreographer for my last JFW show), to be included in the event. The event itself is called VISIONAIRE, featuring designers from both Indonesia and Malaysia. The list of designers include: Ian Adrian, Andy Saleh, Roy Mulyanto, Cindy Engkeng, Ichwan Thoha, Renalaksita, Lorenzo Peh, Ivan Gunawan, Erdan, Khalik Mustafa, Yoyo Prasetyo, Yudhistira, John Paris, Ina Thomas, and Lennor by Lenny Agustine.

I need to extend a big thank you to the organizers, Mr. Wawan Soeharto and team from W Management, and Mr. Marco from Posture Management. They are the amazing people that came up with the grande event! Looking at the list, I probably am the most inexperienced of all the designers, and because of that I extend my utmost gratitude to both of them for allowing me to stage my collections with them.

The show itself is one insane day! I, once again got great model line-up, and I get to work with the most stunning (if not the 1st) androgyny model in Jakarta, Darell Ferhostan of Edge Models. Thank you Darell for willing to make his debut on the runway with my collection! Also thank you Mr. Iwan Keplek for mixing the music, and again, like last year, Aleksander Ormandy suggested the songs to me. Ms. Sari Nila is our host of the evening, thank you for her fabulous job. Also to my fabulous line up of models: Helena, Vikan, Filla, Silvie, Bulan, Valentina, Caroline, Putu, Evie and Paula.

Accessories are graciously provided by my dear friend Julie Rochili, and shoes, just like last time were produced by Mr. Weda Agustino. Thank you guys both!

Special thanks to Mr. Malvin Hartwell for being a fantastic supporter, also all the friends and family who came and support the show. It really means a lot knowing that you were all there to support me.. Love you all, see you next time on the runway!

DOMINATRIX - Jakarta Fashion and Food Festival 2011

Presented at the Jakarta Fashion and Food Festival 2011
at the Harris Hotel Kelapa Gading

MUA: PAC by Martha Tilaar
Coreographer: Wawan Soeharto
Music Director: Iwan Keplek
Models: Darell, Helena, Filla, Silvie, Caroline, Evie, Putu, Vikan, Bulan, Valentina, Paula
Shoes: Wed's for Yosafat
Accessories: Julie Rochili Creations
Photos by: Ariyanto Tirtosudiro

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Fashion Week (or Month)

The Fashion Weeks is probably the most exciting month of the year for a lot of fashionistas. Buyers from all around the world fly off to New York, then London, then Milan, the Paris to see the shows as well as editors and models. It doesn't hurt that every now and then socialites, celebrities and lately fashion bloggers join the gank of fashion traveler.

To call it a gank is not an overstatement, you bump into the same people again and again all day long all month. You sit next to each other in a show, most probably you will sit next to each other in a dinner party, and most likely to sit next to each other again on the plane. It's all so glamorous. With the additional bloggers publishing not only the shows but also the people attending the show, or model off duty looks, everyone is treated like a celebrity. Imagine an entire month of Oscar red carpet where people screaming out: "who are you wearing?!" like you're a celebrity.

The fashion crowd are the celebrity. Isn't it interesting that this past year we've come to know individuals like Bryanboy, Suzie Bubble, Tommy Ton, from the blogger gank (who used to be just another fashion adorer), and Anna Wintour, Giovanna Bataglia, Christiane Arp, or Anna Dello Russo who are now just as famous as their fellow front row-er from the celeb gank like Kirsten Dunst, Nicole Kidman or Kerry Washington who each have had their share of gracing the front row of some of the big designer shows.

In fact it didn't at all started that way. Far from the glitz and glam in 1947 in post World-War II New York City, a group of fashion publicists held what is called the Press Week at that time, to basically distract the media from the ever growing French fashion at that time. It was an instant success. Prominent magazines like Vogue began to feature American designers in their magazine. Milan, London and Paris followed soon after seeing the success of New York Press Week, and soon it became big. These 4 cities are the dominant fashion weeks in the world.

Looking at the success of the fashion weeks of these cities, other cities of the world began to create their own fashion weeks. Tokyo in Japan, Sao Paulo in Brazil, even other cities in US (like LA) and Italy (Rome) now have their own fashion weeks.

But what is a fashion week? Why such hooplah about it?

Well back then the only fashion shows held are the Haute Couture shows. The couturiers would held show basically everyday of the week for select clients who wanted to purchase a look from the collection. It was quiet, unlike these days. No grand music, no brilliant lighting, no photographers. The clients would then pick a look from the collection, and have a similar look tailor made for her. The first show of the season would be for the press and international buyers, the next shows are for customers. So it was more of an exclusive thing back then. Not highly covered, but in a way just the way it's supposed to be. Fashion shows were about fashion, and showing garments at their best.

Then because of the Press Week, the idea is made bigger as the industry got bigger as well. And the reason to just sum it up in a week is because then the buyers and editors can just focus on setting a trend, rather than just seeing one collection after another. And it's a much easier solution for a lot of designers who are new, fashion weeks can be an outlet to showcase their work to the bigger audience.

As the first city to do fashion week, New York got the first slot of the fashion month (they used to just randomly decide who goes first, until a rule is set). As the first one to launch the fashion month, New York is where you get the 'real' garments. New York designers are known to be the most commercial of them all. The New York style is easy, light and wearable, that's why they're often called sportswear.

New York is also where a lot of new talents rise. Young designers like Altuzarra, Jason Wu, Alexander Wang, and the Rodarte sisters are some of the many examples of the New York brands that was born in New York, big in New York and stayed in New York unlike it's London counterpart. The other big brands are also always so proud to be a part of the American fashion like Michael Kors, Vera Wang, Donna Karran and Carolina Herrera who apart from their origin are always proud to be a New York brand.

New York Fashion Week used to be centered in one tent located in the Bryant Park. But due to increasing number of shows and guests, they have moved it to a much bigger place in Lincoln Center resulting in a much more organized shows.

London comes next after New York. London is where some of the most talented people started. Big names like Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, John Galliano, Gareth Pugh and Christopher Kane all started in London. But unfortunately most of those names no longer show in London. McQueen, McCartney, Galliano and Pugh have all moved to Paris. And there's a tendency that when a designer got big in London, they will eventually move somewhere.

But despite all the moving, London is still a big fashion destination. And even though a lot of people seems to just skip it altogether, the new talents are always born in London. The latest addition to the London genius are knitwear master Mark Fast and print lady Mary Katranzou. But high hopes are looking up at London. Burberry an old London brand who showed in Milan Fashion Week for a long long time, is now back in London. And so are some of what used to be the fresh talent who have moved to other cities like Johnathan Saunders, Julien MacDonald and Pringle of Scotland who used to show in New York. With the return of these brands back in London, like it or not, the editors and buyers now must stop by in London before then moving on to Milan.

Milan Fashion Week started in 1958. Milan is famous for having some of the most luxurious brands in the world. Not only that, most of the brands that shows in Milan have a long heritage of brilliant design and outstanding quality. Brands like Bottega Veneta, Armani, Gucci, Versace, Prada are long associated with luxury, while others like Missoni, Moschino, Roberto Cavalli, Marni and Fendi are long associated with craft and heritage. And Milan is offically the fashion capital of Italy because those brands come from all over Italy, Gucci and Fendi are from Rome, Cavalli are from Florence, Dolce & Gabbana are from the Sicily.

But compared to Paris, London or New York, Milan is relatively a big fashion show cramped in a small city. It's been long that the editors, models, and designers complain that the schedule is way to messy and hectic. Also, Milan Fashion Week is not known to be friendly towards new designers. It's been a long time since the last time a 'new' designer have risen from Milan (I think the last time was Aquiliano Rimondi formerly known as 6267). So despite the importance of the Milan Fashion Week, freshness is never expected.

Paris Fashion Week closes the month the way a fashion capital should. Paris is a perfect balance of freshness (with increasing number of young designers, eg. McCartney, McQueen, etc.) and heritage (with hundreds of years old brands, eg. Lanvin, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Dior, etc.). Paris is also the most international, hosting not only French brands but also Japanese (eg. Kenzo, Comme des Garcons, Yohji Yamamoto), Belgian (eg. Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester), or even British (eg. Stella McCartney), American (eg. Rick Owens), and Italian designers (eg. Giambattista Valli).

Paris Fashion week is also held with the most grandeur festivity. It's famous for having some of the biggest parties during the month. Celebrities are also flocked during Fashion Week. Still, after all these years, Paris have yet to loose it's 'Fashion Capital' title by mixing it up, allowing the foreign brands to show there and therefore making the week a lot more interesting.

Fashion Weeks are held bi-annually for Spring-Summer and Fall-Winter. The Fall-Winter shows usually starts in mid-February (usually starts in New York from 10-17 of Feb) and continues for 4 weeks straight all the way through Paris. The Spring-Summer shows starts in mid September. It's the most fast phased weeks in the fashion calendar. As soon as a show finishes, the next one starts, sometimes the venue is on the other side of the city, with the traffic and everything, sometimes it's running late, causing the next show to start late, and the next one late too. It's basically insanity in 4 weeks.

On the day the fashion weeks starts, the models, editors, buyers, make-up artists and hair dressers arrived in New York. Models scrams off to countless castings and fittings, while the editors hop from one show to another, one re-see to another. The buyers also need to make sure within that show and re-see on what should get into the store. The make-up artists and hair dressers also hop from one show to another going basically the same thing over and over again for 4 weeks straight.

This is also the busiest day for the designers as well. A series of castings, and fittings are done in a mere day (or 2 at the maximum) on a 40 something looks that are about to come down the runway, and basically be judged in an instance. With the advanced technology, twitter and blogger, the review are faster than ever. So you can imagine the pressure that is on the designers, especially those doing more than 1 shows (like Marc Jacobs with Marc Jacobs, Marc by Marc and Louis Vuitton, or Karl Lagerfeld with Fendi, Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld).

The end of the show doesn't mean that their business stops, there's this thing called the re-see, which is an opportunity for the editors and buyers to take a closer look on the garments they just showed. I call it the judgment time, where the designer need to face the people who will have a big influence of their sales for the next 6 months.

The minute the last show of New York Fashion week ended, all the models, editors, bloggers, make up artists, and hair dressers go to the airport and fly off to London (usually even at the same flight!). So you see why it's one big gank. The next day is the beginning of London Fashion Week and the same cycle continues. So I think you can imagine how exhausted these people must have felt.

But then they started to grow kind of like a big group of cool people traveling together, working together, and be feared by a lot of people. I mean, that ought to be fun, no?

There are extra fashion weeks in Paris and Milan. In Milan and Paris, about a month before the regular fashion show, there's the Menswear fashion week that move on from Milan to Paris. Once the menswear week ended, Paris have an extra fashion week for Haute Couture which lasted only 3 days, and ended only about 2 weeks before the start of New York Fashion Week.

I'm not involved in this fashion circus (I call it a circus 'cause of all the big group travelling) but I couldn't help but getting excited when the weeks started. New York Fashion Week just started, and it's going to be a big shift of trend going on from one city to the other.

To be honest, back then it was nicer. I had to wait a few weeks to read the reviews and be able to see the complete collection. I remember how excited I was to read Koleksiana, the fashion week report yearly in Dewi Magazine. Now it's in to the minute, even live report and live streaming. There's almost no exclusivity anymore, no room for mistakes. I could imagine it's more exhausted now more than ever.

But still my eyes are towards New York at the moment, spotting what could possibly the biggest trend of the year 2011 to 2012.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Spring 2011 Top 10 Collections

1. Jil Sander
A tribute to color, probably is supposed to be a theme for this collection. Or perhaps a return to true minimalism? Whatever it is, Raf Simmons' Spring collection for Jil Sander exceeds my expectations. It's minimal, in a way that we can almost say it's couture. Combining a T-shirt with an almost couture skirt, with the fit that is just sheer genius, also the way he tailors layers and layers of coats in a way that it was structured but also soft at the same time. And this is perhaps the first time we get colors from him, and it's almost like
the spring just hit you in the face.

2. Prada
Miuccia Prada's take on minimalism with a twist somehow makes one of the most interesting show this season for me. Her boldness to just put minimalism in an almost harsh colors, daring silhouette, and sort of comical print is just outstanding. And the fact the the collection is so cohesive while we're seeing so many different things going down the runway is almost sophisticated and yet modern. Truly one of the greatest moments for Prada.

3. Jason Wu
One of the young generation of designers in New York, Jason Wu impressed me this season. Not only that he chose to do lady like while every one else in New York city is going 70s glamor or 90s minimalism, but also because he chose to show women how to look proper all over again. The collection have pieces that would work right away, and dresses that are super chic and that we can see being instantly worn by Hollywood stars.

4. Givenchy
It was probably the most thought provoking collection in Paris. Starting from the way it was presented, down to Ricardo Tisci's decision to use Lea T. a transgender model to walk the runway. But despite all the drama, this is one of the daring collection. We can see every essential trends of 2011 (except for colors) like animal prints, see trhough cothes, and striking pair of pants. In a nutshell, though it was daring and bold, there's still a string commercial appeal in the collection.

5. Lanvin
I think there is no question about Alber Elbaz's world fashion domination through his lead at Lanvin. After proofing that he could also do commercial hit with his collaboration with H&M, he did yet another amazing collection. I can't recall any women seeing this collection that didn't go, "that's stunning" or "I want that" which you can't really always say about a collection designed by a male designer. The collection itself is like always, feminine but strong and confident, just like a Lanvin woman.

6. Alexander McQueen
Sarah Burton's first womenswear collection after the passing of the late Alexander McQueen is nothing but short of anticipation, and thank God, she didn't disappoint. It matches the theatricality of McQueen himself, it was comparable to McQueen's intricate detailing which was one of his signature, and it was definitely bringing the same structural quality that McQueen is synonymous for. But being a female designer, it was somehow more gentle, and soft, and feminine, which was sometimes what's lacking in McQueen's works. So bravo Sarah for continuing McQueen's legacy without loosing her signature in the process.

7. Rick Owens
It's always fun to see a different point of view from a fashion "outsider" almost. Watching a Rick Owens show is like watching a tribe of women from some other side of the world that is untouchable from normal people, if not alien. This time in particular, I get the sense that this collection is more wearable than usual, also softer and prettier without loosing the strength. Which is why this collection in particular is one of my favorites, there's a sense of evolution that I like about his work.

8. Dries Van Noten
As a designer who's constantly inspired by artists, I always look forward to every collection that he does. This time it was Jef Verheyen whose paintings are about catching the light in simple tone colors gradating from solid to just pure white. It reflected in his collection in how he treated a very beautiful japanese inspired print and just bleach it to create the color gradation that was just breathtaking. There's also a sense of freedom and lightness in the clothes, which is amazing considering some of the incredible beading involved in making these clothes.

9. Calvin Klein Collection
Since the 90s minimalism is back this season, it was only appropriate to look at the hero of the trend, and see what his successor can do with the inspiration. Francisco Costa certainly didn't disappoint. He has done minimalism before, but at times it felt robotic, and not soft and womanly. This time there's a different mood and feel about his minimalism, it's more soft and womanly. Perhaps it was his choice of fabric that changes, it wasn't stiff or stand away from the body, but more fluid and sort of fall on the body. Truly a nice and gentle way to evolve his style without loosing the core of Calvin Klein.

10. Yves Saint Laurent
Have you ever had a fantasy about the chic Parisian woman with her impeccable outfit and one heck of an attitude, this collection is exactly a reflection of that. It was the truest to the DNA of Yves Saint Laurent that Stefano Pilati has ever done, meaning that there's a sense of chicness and decadence that is so synonymous to the DNA of the brand, creating one of the strongest collection that Stefano has ever done for the brand. It is the true French fashion at it's best.

Images from

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The World of Haute Couture

A few weeks ago, I was reading a magazine. In it, there's an announcement about the Valentino Retrospective Exhibition that will be visiting Singapore. I was immediately excited and carry on with the plan to definitely pay a visit to the exhibition. After all, I'd be ashamed to call myself a fashion junkie, if I have never encounter the ultimate "drug" in the fashion world, the Haute Couture.
So what's all this hooplah about Haute Couture you may ask? Why is it that I'm so fascinated by the thought of being able to see a piece of clothing that is worthy to be called Haute Couture? Well it started about over a hundred years ago, when Charles Frederick Worth (a British man nonetheless) basically felt threatened that his job as a made-to-order dressmaker would soon be replaced by a less luxurious yet more practical form of pret-a-porter, also known as ready-to-wear.

So he created this term, Haute Couture, which literally translates to high sewing. The idea was to preserve a very particular style of dressmaking that was elaborate and has a very high quality from the attack of ready-to-wear clothing. His idea was bought, and soon almost every French designer from the late 19th century to the early 20th century designers were called Couturier (or Haute Couture Designers). Callot Soeurs, Jean Patou, and Jacques Doucet were some of the earliest couturiers. The early 20th century pre World War II are Paul Poiret, Coco Chanel, Jeanne Lanvin, Madeleine Vionnet, Mainbocher (who's an American), Elsa Schiaparelli, Fortuny, Lucien Lelong, Cristobal Balenciaga and Pierre Balmain. The lovely thing about Haute Couture at those days was that the couturiers of the next generation were trained under the previous generation of couturier just like how Madeleine Vionnet was working for Callot Soeurs then Jacques Doucet before opening her own house, so was the next generation of couturiers. Christian Dior who was the biggest couturier in the 40s an 50s, were trained under Lucien Lelong and Pierre Balmain. Hubert de Givenchy was an apprentice to Elsa Schiaparelli before the big launch of his career.

This applies to the next generation as well. After the 50s new generation of couturiers blossoms into the surface. Names like Yves Saint Laurent (who was an apprentice to Christian Dior), Emanuel Ungaro (who worked for Balenciaga), Courreges (who also got a jump start from Balenciaga), and Pierre Cardin (also worked at Dior and Schiaparelli) were the biggest names of the decade. The later designers that had the balls to try their luck in the Haute Couture scenes were Jean Paul Gaultier, Christian Lacroix, Valentino Garavani and Thierry Mugler.

It was almost impressive how the Haute Couture works. They have a council, who decided whether or not someone is worthy of being a Couturier. This council is called Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture Parisienne which was created in 1868, now it is a part of a Federation called Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture du Pret a Porter des Couturiers et des Creatures de Mode (loosely translated: French Federation of Fashion, and of Ready to Wear of Couturiers and Fashion Designers). So what does this council do, is basically the Syndicale decided who's worthy of being a couture designer. He or she must fulfill the standard operational of Haute Couture by following these 3 rules: design made to order clothing for clients with at least one fittings, have a workshop (atelier) in Paris that employs at least 15 people full-time, and twice a year each season is able to present a collection to the paris press of at least 35 set of garments with outfits for both day and evening wear.

So what is it that made an Haute Couture piece so special, other than the most complicated bureaucracy involved in just being able to make one? Well it is famously known that Haute Couture is made mostly by hand, over 80% of work has to be by hand. Though it is said that a lot of fashion houses cheated on this rule these days, you can still see that there's a lot of effort going on in making that garment.

Chanel is one of the old fashion couture houses that believes in the old values of making everything entirely by hand. A documentary about how a couture collection was made showed that almost all of the garments from the draping of the pattern to the making of the trimmings are done by hand. A friend of mine who studied in the school of Haute Couture (oh yes, there's a special school for it), said that the curriculum is almost impossible and that only those who are trained amazingly well would be able to survive sewing an entire jacket by hand. Of course this makes the cost of labour triples the regular cost of ready-to-wear. A ready to wear dress can be finished in a mere day, while an haute couture can take up to 3 weeks to finish from pattern to trimmings. And haute couture is one of a kind, meaning that there's only one of it made in the world. They are by law (and integrity) are not allowed to re-create a same piece with the same pattern (once the outfit is done, the pattern is scrapped).

The fabrics used are also exceptional. They say that all the fabrics are the best and the rarest quality fabrics anyone can find in the world. Lucky for me, they have these kinds of fabric supply in Jakarta. And I've seen a Chantilly lace that Ungaro used on his last Haute Couture collection, a piece of that lace could pay my rent for an entire year, believe it or not. And the trimmings, according to a documentary about Chanel Couture that I watched, the famous Chanel braiding that embellish the famous Chanel tweed jacket is made by an old lady who lives in the out skirt of Paris. She's so old, but she's still the best in the business. Karl Lagerfeld (the chief designer of Chanel, in case you don't know), said that that woman was indispensable in making a Chanel jacket, and that no other person in this world could braid like her. Mind you, she's so old, so when she died, no one else in the world could do the same Chanel braiding!! And the beading are another story, a dress could be done by 6 ladies, and could take up to over 100 hours! That's 600 hours if done by 1 person. Using some of the most beautiful crystal, beads and sequins that you can find in this world. So in conclusion, Haute Couture is the highest of the highest level in fashion.

So what does this lavishness of Haute Couture cost you? Well according to Becca Cason Thrash, a philantrophist and famous couture collection, a blouse could cost you around $10,000 to $20,000 and a dress could probably exceed 6 figures. So what justify these women to spend money that could possibly feed a small country on a piece of clothing? Some say it's the exclusivity, some say it's the prestige, some say that it's like an addiction, that once you wear Haute Couture, you can never wear ready to wear ever again.

Considering the price tag that might get someone a heart attack, the people who can afford couture are extremely limited. Some say only about 200 people in the world buys Haute Couture, a very small number. It's almost like a little private club of 200 women who have 2 things in common, they are rich, and have an impeccable taste in fashion. Though Couture houses are private about who buys their clothes (and price tag as well), some famous (really) rich women like Becca Cason Thrash, Daphne Guiness and Ivanka Trump are famous for throwing Couture on their back almost on every occasion.

But 200 people isn't that many. And there are dozens of Couturiers fighting for clients every season. Which is why companies with smaller financial backing have withdrawn from the Couture game to focus on the ready-to-wear market. In fact, it is said that Chanel is the only fashion house in the world that's actually making decent money out of it's Haute Couture business. Other houses like Dior and Givenchy merely use the show as a way to advertise their other products like accessories and make-ups. While the rest, those who didn't have as strong financial backing as those mentioned earlier, have really slipped away from the market and some, like Christian Lacroix, was forced to give up. Earlier in 2009, the house of Christian Lacroix failed for bankruptcy. The bigger business minded company like Yves Saint Laurent, Ungaro, Guy Laroche, chose to shut down the Couture line altogether and focus more on other lines to make more profit. Some international designers who have tasted the bittersweet taste of the world of Haute Couture like Emilio Pucci, Versace, and recently Chado Ralph Rucci, haven't shown their Haute Couture collection in years.

So the fact that it's getting rare, almost extinct perhaps, somehow adds up the luxuriousness of these clothes. It's almost like if you're able to afford a piece from Jean Paul Gaultier or Dominique Sirop, that you have been a patron of Haute Couture. More and more clothing have become an art form, and some of these ladies consider Haute Couture to be sort of an investment. I happen to heard a story about a lady in Indonesia who's been collecting a look from each and every one of Jean Paul Gaultier's Haute Couture collection, not to wear, just to look at.

And that's another thing too. The reason why Chanel is the only profitable Haute Couture houses is because Chanel's products are relatable to the direct customers (ladies who are mostly in their 50s), while other houses like Elie Saab and Valentino's shows are always packed with middle eastern princesses and royals who loves the elegance that they both bring to their designs. While houses like Christian Dior, whose designs are always extra-ordinary, out of the box, innovative, yet somewhat not wearable, are not counting their income from the couture collection, the shows have been more about keeping up with the traditions and setting trends rather than actual sales (note that the Haute Couture show of Christian Dior has went from really grand at the Versailles a few years back to very low key at the house's salon in Paris). While those like Lacroix, who seems to be stuck in the 80s, unfortunately is unable to meet the modernness and relate-ability that the customer needs, and therefore forced to shut down altogether.

So is Haute Couture in general dying? With the Couture fashion week down to just 3 days, and consisting only very few members of the Chambre, and most are actually foreign companies (Valentino is Italian, Elie Saab is Lebanese, Giorgio Armani is Italian, Martin Margiella is Belgian) or have foreign chief designer (Chanel's Karl Lagerfeld is German, Givenchy's Ricardo Tisci is Italian, and Dior's John Galliano is British), while the rest of the list are smaller companies like Dominique Sirop, Anne Valerie Hash, Franck Sorbier, Alexis Mabille and Jean Paul Gaultier trying to survive the harsh fashion world, I guess it is save to say that the Haute Couture is a dying art, as rare as the Sumatran Tiger or the American Bald Eagle, which brings back to my point at the beginning of this post, about my fascination to see Haute Couture with my own eyes for the first time in my life.

Sadly, there's not much we can do to preserve this dying art of Haute Couture. With that price tag, it's almost like the Couturier are making this kind of art unreachable, and even if we can reach it, would we buy it, even though it means preserving an art form.

Once I made it (if I ever make it) to the Valentino Retrospective Exhibition, I'll report back to you. And until then, Ciao!!