Goudemalion: Jean Paul Goude Retrospective

Often, the term “Pygmalion” is used to describe artist, Jean-Paul Goude and the intimate rapport he has with his muses. However, instead of sculpting object of desires out of stone, Goude transforms women with whom he cultivates a relationship into his living, breathing works of mythical art. Call it “Goudemalion,” a term reflected in the Musee des Arts Decoratif’s latest exhibition paying homage to the brilliant mind of image maker/art director, Jean-Paul Goude.

Best known for his vivacious Galeries Lafayette billboards and his relationship with pop icon, Grace Jones, Goude takes the visitor on a journey into his imagination with the help of croquis sketches, manipulated photographs, clever television commercials, costumes, illustrations, elements from a gargantuan parade and a wild and crazy cast of characters with the divine Grace Jones  center stage.
In fact, an entire room is devoted to work inspired by Jone’s image, which includes a display case of life-like masks, paintings of an angular, androgynous, and grand physique of the singer as well as the video,  “One Man Show” also produced by Goude.  Grace also reappears throughout the exhibition as two mechanized heads used in the Citroen CX TV commercials, in a series of “reviewed and corrected” slide show in a space off to the side, and still in a larger than life “collage” entitled “Constructivist maternity dress” the far end of the central room.

But long before his association with Grace, Goude was already an established figure in the arts on both sides of the Atlantic. Born to a French father and American mother (a professional dancer), the” artist” came of age in the era dominated by Andy Warhol, Peter Max, and Antonio Lopez beginning with a series of photographs  Goude named, the “French Correction.” After snapping his own pictures, images were then sliced and spread to attribute new proportions to his subjects then meticulously retouched to resemble a flawless photograph. In modern times, the end result appears  to have been “Photoshopped” but then you must consider these images were created 30 years before the software existed. “My images are, above everything, visual metaphors destined to tell stories,” explained Goude in the book, “Goudemalion, Sa Vie, Ses Oeuvres.” “In spite of the title which describes me, I considered myself an apprentice and took the time to experiment. “ Parallel to his personal research, Goude’s career began as an illustrator for  “Marie Claire” magazine, Dim, Printemps department store in Paris, then art director for Esquire magazine in New York in the 1970’s.

In 1989 Goude was commissioned by Francois Mitterand’s government to produce a parade marking the Bicentennial of the French Revolution.  With his outrageous imagination and poetic sense of humor, he transformed an otherwise austere military parade into a colorful mix of ethnicities and multicultural references. Remnants from the grandiouse pageant are appropriately placed in the center gallery, where visitors are greeted with a two-story tall, twirling dancer (fashioned after his North African muse, Farida) dressed in black.  Just behind, is the train, a larger-than-life, wooden replica of SNCF’s “Pacific 231 steam locomotive used in the parade as well as the artist’s croquis book created while planning the parade. Gracing the walls are reproductions of those sketches as well as portraits and photos of ethnic costumes and set designs.

Goudemalion employs a variety of media. There are photos from the “Jungle Fever” book, pages from sketch books placed everywhere, TV commercials Goude created for Chanel, Kodak, and Citroen.  Even Goude’s famous Galeries Lafayette billboards are presented in a cool setting that makes it fun to watch. Several subway stations were filmed to show off the billboards then programmed to run simultaneously around an entire room of plasma monitors.  Visitors are virtually transported into the Paris metro with the sights and sounds of commuters admiring the art on the walls while trains whiz by.  
The body of work on display here is most impressive. However, what will strike you most, is the depth and breadth of an imagination of a man who knows no boundaries.

Goudemalion: Jean-Paul Goude, Une Retrospective. Musee des Art Decorative. 107, rue de Rivoli 75001. Tel :  //www.lesartsdecoratifs.fr Open Nov 11-March 18, 2012, Tues-Sun. 11h-18h (Thurs until 21h). Admission: 9 €

Saint Laurent’s Fashion Revolution Revisited

Just in case you missed the critically acclaimed retrospective exhibition of Yves Saint Laurent’s career last year, you still have a chance to catch part of the master couturier’s work at the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent situated in the 16th arrondisement in the same building that once housed his Haute Couture operations. On through July 17, 2011.

In this, the Foundation’s 15th exhibition to date, curator Pierre Bergé, along with the late couturier’s former right hand assistant who served as art director on this project and Dominique Deroche, former press attaché turned advisor, highlights St. Laurent’s contribution to France’s prêt-a-porter industry of the 1960’s.

Within a setting designed by Christian Martin reminiscent of YSL’s first Rive Gauche boutique, inaugurated in September 1966 on the rue de Tournon, 70 of the late couturier’s newsworthy looks are on display. From the safari jacket to the little black dress, each article of clothing, revolutionary for that era are timeless classics that could easily walk out of the museum and into the wardrobes of contemporary fashionistas today. The museum is small; however, it affords visitors an intimate view of the exquisite workmanship that went into producing each garment. Documentation provided by Ms. De la Falaise, transports viewers back 50 years to simpler times and places the garments in the context of life in the 1960’s and the impact they had on moving fashion away from couture and towards off the rack clothes for the modern era of style.

For those who attended last year’s show at the Petit Palais, there won’t be any new surprises. You’ve seen all of these iconic items before. However, these clothes are like old friends. One never tires of seeing them over and over again.

SAINT LAURENT RIVE GAUCHE: LA REVOLUTION DE LA MODE Fondation Pierre Berge-Yves Saint Laurent. 5 ave. Marceau. Tel: 01 Open Tues-Sat 11-18h. Thursdays until 21h, on now through July 17. Admission: 7 Euros

The Timless French Elegance of Madame Grès

Paris loves to put on a great show. And what better way to show off French savoir-faire than by providing visitors to the French Capital a glimpse of its illustrious High Fashion tradition. Palais Galliera is kicking off its new season with a glorious exhibition honoring Madame Gres housed at the Musee Bourdelle through July 24, 2011. The museum, situated in the vicinity of the Montparnasse Tower, is the former atelier of Antoine Bourdelle, a former student of Rodin. Its rooms and courtyard are chocked full of massive bronze statues and equestrian figures, busts and reliefs. So, you might wonder, what does a sculptor museum have in common with a high fashion designer?

“I always wanted to be a sculptor,” the late couturier once expressed. “For me, whether using fabric or stone, the work is the same.”  It is not surprising that Madame’s garments, with its intricate pin tucks and sensual drapery about the body, inspired by ancient Grecian sculpture –flawlessly blend in with the surrounding artwork. In fact, upon entering the “Salle des Platres,” a single ivory silk jersey gown is practically undistinguishable when set within stone walls and plaster reliefs of the same colour. A study of grey and daywear takes its righteous place in from of the iron reliefs in the Portzampark wing. In other rooms, the sculptural effect of fluid jerseys wrapped around dress forms perched atop sculpture stands suggest works of art in progress, much like the studies of plaster busts,  ironwork statuettes and other objets d’art set about what was once an artist’s atelier. What is remarkable is how a symphony of white silk jersey draped gowns in the Salle Beethoven appears so new, so fresh as though they had just stepped off the runway. A classic look triumphs in timeless elegance.

Revered by her contemporaries as a master of couture, Germaine Krebs, born in 1903, partnered with Alix Barton and opened a couture house in 1932 which became known simply as “Alix.” Responsible for designing the toiles, Germaine experimented with “new textures” including that of silk jersey, mohair, nylon crinoline and silk ciré. It was the “art of the drape” which created a name for the couturier. Later, in 1941, she opened her own couture house under the name “Grès” (an anagrams taken from the name of her husband (a painter).

In 1941, with World War II raging on, Grès dared to present collections of colors in red, white and blue as a way of intimidating the German authorities. She was shut down briefly but reopened in 1942. Guided by her incessant desire to work as a sculptress, Grès developed a veritable science around the drape. Inspired by the peplum from ancient Greek sculpture, and guided by her knowledge of handling wide widths of silk jersey, Mme. Grès created a special style of pin pleating which she then stitched in place. Though she also created coats, dresses and suits and worked with silk faille or taffeta in billowing silhouettes, it was her signature evening gowns with miles of jersey, painstakingly sculpted with miniscule pleats for which she is most famous.

The Mme. Grès exhibit consists of 80 garments dating from the 1930’s through the 1980’s originating from the Palais Galliera’s private collection. In addition there are 50 original prints from iconic photographers like Avedon, Horst P. Horst, Wally Maywald, Guy Bourdin and others. Jewelry designed for Grès is sporadically mixed in with other small artwork (including a silver pond lily necklace designed by Robert Goosens for Grès and jewelry created by the couturier herself for Cartier along with a hundred or so priceless croquis sketches donated by the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent.

The exhibition is not only a pleasant connection between the worlds of fine arts and fashion,  it is also a great way of discovering one of Paris’ lesser known art museums.

Madame Grès, La Couture a L’Oeuvre. Musée Bourdelle  16, rue Antoine Bourdelle 75015. Tel : Open Tues-Sun 10-18h, to July 24. Entrance 7 Euros.

Coco Chanel… avant and toujours

ImageThe Paris buzz this week is all about Anne Fontaine's new film "Coco Avant Chanel" starring a perfect for the part Audrey Tautou. Based on a Chanel biography "l"Irreguliere" (The Nonconformist) by Edmonde Charles-Roux, the film (in French) tells the tale of the designer's early years and her remarkable rise to fame and fortune.

A film that would do justice to the entire life of this amazing woman could possibly take days to see, so we just have to wait for part two. She was born to a humble family, and after the death of her mother spent her youth in an orphanage, where she learned to sew. Ambitious and determined, she soon realized that men could be exploited. She sought out wealthy and powerful men who could provide the money and protection essential to gratify her social and creative needs. Her first boyfriend set her up in a hat shop, but it was an Englishman, Arthur "Boy" Capel, who took her to Paris, gave her a taste for the high life, and backed her when she wanted to open a millinery shop in Deauville.

"Genius is the ability to foresee the future," Coco Chanel often said. But even Mademoiselle, as she was often called, could never have imagined that  years after her death, her small boutique at 31, rue Cambon would be the nucleus of a multinational business including a network of stores around the globe. One of the best known fashion names of the century, Chanel is unique. It is the only house that has remained faithful to the spirit of its namesake well after the founder's death, without compromising the original image.

Suits, watches, bags marked with golden intertwining double C's, perfume inscribed with the number five – all have remained on the hit-parade of best-selling luxury items around the world. Just how has this house survived the death of its founder, a woman who admitted to doing business without being a businesswoman?

Since 1924, the mysterious Wertheimer family guaranteed its continuity. Pierre Wertheimer, owner of Bourjois Cosmetics, collaborated with Chanel to form a perfume company in 1924. Thirty years later, Wertheimer bought the couture house, which his son Jacques inherited in 1965. By 1974, business was stagnating, till 25-year-old Alain ousted his father and took the reins. The brand owes much of its current success to this young French millionaire, whom Fortune magazine credits with the 30th largest fortune in Europe.

Another key element is the talent, taste and charm of Karl Lagerfeld, who in 1983 took over as designer at what was essentially a dowdy house, and gave it what Mademoiselle never did: a sense of humor. Lagerfeld hiked up skirts, introduced denim, pulled on leggings, pulled in jackets, found a thousand different ways to reinterpret the house's icons and archives and took the double C insignia places it had never been before. Lagerfeld, who is the art director of the house of Chanel, surpervised the re-creation of  the costumes  and accessories for the  "Coco Avant Chanel" film.

Though there have been Chanel collections with items that made a few bourgeois women wince – Chanel pasties worn with oversized jeans, moon boots, baseball caps, sneakers, G-strings under dresses cut to the crotch – in an odd way, Lagerfeld has remained faithful to the spirit of Mademoiselle. Rebelling against ostentatious clothes at the turn of the century, Gabrielle Chanel was the first designer to incorporate "street style" into high fashion, borrowing sailor pants and cardigans from menswear. She is also credited with making fashionable such varied styles as tweed suits, jersey, short hair, suntans and costume jewelry.

Chanel focused her efforts on the world of high fashion, and introduced comfort, ease and practicality in clothes – concepts totally foreign to fashion at the time. Soon she opened a dress shop in Paris, but closed it at the onset of World War I. After the war, Capel was killed in a car crash. Though grief-stricken, Chanel concentrated her efforts as a designer, and was awarded with fame, wealth and importance. By 1928 she had launched her couture house at 31, rue Cambon. She was a major figure in fashion until the eve of World War II. By 1930, her annual turnover was 120 million old francs and she was said to have over £3 million on deposit in London banks. Her success was based on the simple observation, made very early in her career, that what she liked for herself would appeal to other women.

In 1954, at age 71, after years of Swiss retirement, Coco Chanel reopened her house. Heckled at first by the European press as someone out of touch with modern times, she regained her place in the world of style when her ladylike dresses became best sellers, particularly with Americans. At her death in 1971, her assistants, Yvonne Dudel and Jean Cazaubon, took over the direction of the house. Chanel Boutique was launched in 1976. The clothes were designed by Philippe Guibourgé until the German-born Lagerfeld arrived. In the years since Lagerfeld has ruled the house, he has become the most important maker and shaker in the world of French fashion.

Coco Chanel believed that "fashion doesn't exist until it goes down into the streets." Though she might be taken aback by some of Lagerfeld's wild interpretations of her classic style, still she'd be pleased to see that the house she founded many years ago has maintained its status as France's premiere monument of style.


Sonia Rykiel, The Paris Exhibition


Campagne publicitaire de la collection Automne/Hiver 1980 © Dominique Issermann  

For a seasoned fashionista like myself, a visit to the Sonia Rykiel Exhibition was like taking a stroll down catwalk memory lane. No, I haven't been around for all 40 years of Sonia's career, but her passion for knitwear impacted my clothing habits as far back in the 1970's, terrycloth cocktail dresses, skinny knit shorts and all. As a journalist, I have attended a good share of her catwalk presentations. My visit to the Musée des Arts Decoratifs which is hosting a tribute to Sonia Rykiel's 40 years in business until April 9, provided me a step back in time, when fashion was about "real clothes" for "real women" and those of Ms. Rykiel were a special treat.  

Within the museum's dimly lit, hush-hush environment, "Sonia Rykiel, The Exhibition" plunges visitors into the mysterious universe of Sonia Rykiel by telling her story with an assembly of  220 garments, numerous fashion show videos  and photos. The space replicates a Haussmanian apartment that one explores by passing from one room to another. A rotunda, doors, boudoirs and alcoves are lined up in a shadowy ambiance revealing both the glamorous  and sensual side of the designer.

From pastel evening gowns to little black dresses cut in a multiplicity of shapes and silhouettes, striped pullovers, and "poor boy" garments worn inside out, elegant terrycloth jog suits to sweaters emblazoned with messages…from  chunky knits in bright, primary colors and  frou-frou "chubbies," (short, square-shouldered jackets), floral summer prints, and "pop art" jumpers to bomber jackets and girly accessories, all dolled up with lots of bling-bling…the exhibition groups together numerous themes encompassing the signature of a woman known for her fiery red frizzy locks and her penchant for art, literature and left bank intelligentsia. 

Born in Paris in 1930, Sonia Rykiel began her career in 1962 with a line of maternity clothing for her husband's boutique, "Laura." Six years later  she opened her first boutique in St. Germain des-Pres and almost instantly she was declared the queen of knitwear with her mini-sweaters cut in strangely new proportions. Knitwear become her material of choice that she would work to the point of obsession throughout her career, earning her the title "Queen of Knitwear" by New York trade publication, Women's Wear Daily. 

In 1974, she thumbed her nose at status quo by creating garments with seams on the outside. The hems and linings were erased and abolished, marking a decade of gestures and attitudes which would define a passport to modernity through experimentation and somewhat radical concepts.
Sonia Rykiel was also a pioneer in her use of black, a color once reserved for mourning which she transformed into a symbol of modern seduction and liberty.  She used black with somber details to illuminate the pale faces of her models which drew attention to the architecture of the garment.  The American retail buyers, in particular, loved her knitwear because, big or small, skinny or round, all women's body types look fabulous when clad in Sonia Rykiel.
With a penchant for clothes that were always accessible and adaptable, Rykiel was the first designer to create clothing for Trois Suisse (catalog) in 1977.A year later she created her first perfume, 7eme Sens, and wrote her first book. In 1982, she collaborated with the Hotel Crillon and was responsible for the décor of their restaurant near the entrance. She launched her childrenswear line in 1984 and her menswear in 1982 with the help of her daughter, Natalie Rykiel. In the 1980's she played an important role with the Chambre Syndicale de Couture des Createurs by sponsoring numerous new talent for entry into their organization including the late American designer, Patrick Kelly.
Lady of fashion, lady of words, she writes the way she speaks and she speaks the way she writes. She plays with words and uses them over her clothing in poetic slogans or in books. She has a fascinating signature that fascinates designers, artists and movie producers.
Anyone familiar with Ms. Rykiel's work might question the "raison d'etre" of going to this show. Her signature is wildly familiar around the globe;  her clothes so incredibly timeless, you'd almost expect to find many items in the stores today. It is however, the universe of Sonia Rykiel, the everyday pieces punctuated with surprising one-off items (a coat that mimics her massive locks, a political sweater  from the last US presidential elections inscribed "OBAMA," ), the videos of her bouncy, cheerful shows and the link with fashions from past eras that promise to fascinate the visitor.
Certain masterpieces coming from the Art Decorative collections were used to relate a brief history of knitwear throughout the centuries along with writings about clothing dating from the 18th century . The charismatic and iconic character of Sonia Rykiel is also revealed through little known documents including a long interview in 1981 given by Andy Warhol himself during his own TV program entitled, "Warhol's TV."
The collaboration of Sonia Rykiel with Dominique Issermann is  presented in this body of work as well. Sonia Rykiel was also the first to hire her for a series of ad campaigns from 1978 – 1990. Of all of the photographers who took photos of the designer's environment, Dominque Issermann is the one who participated the most in the creation of the timeless fashion image of the world's premier "knit-wit," Ms. Sonia Rykiel.
Sonia Rykiel, The Exhbition

Musées des Arts Décoratifs, 107, rue de Rivoli – 75001 Paris
Tel: 01 44 55 57 50; website: //www.lesartsdecoratifs.fr
Open: Tues-Fri 11-18h, Thursday until 21h; Sat-Sun 10-18h (On until April 9, 2009)
Entrance: 8 €


Themes et Variations: Very Valentino!


Valentino collection haute couture, autumn-winter 2007-2008, photo Jean Tholance

In the more than two decades of reporting on fashion collections, I have noticed that the most successful designers are those who turn a deaf ear to the ramblings of the press (both good and bad reviews),  while remaining faithful to the aesthetic needs and tastes of his clientele. This is especially true in the world of Haute Couture where the clothes cost a fortune and the number of women affording them a scant few. This also applies to a man whose name is synonymous with high fashion, a man who, for 45 years, embodies all that is great with Italian design….Valentino.


Valentino Garavani, DR

From his use of sparkling jewel-tone colors and intricate embroideries adorning those beyond-your-wildest-dreams fabrics, to the lovely silhouettes that transform women of all proportions into "million dollar babes," Valentino is the gold standard for elegance, sophistication and most of all….timeless style. It is look that transcends the fleeting whimsy of here today-gone tomorrow trends. Style that is light years ahead of Hollywood stars. Style that is in a class by itself.

But like everything else in life, all good things, at some point, come to an end. News of his retirement  last summer, signaled yet another nail in the coffin of Haute Couture glory days.  Another maestro has left the stage. In a statement released to the press, Valentino pronounced, "Last July, in Rome, I celebrated my 45th Anniversary in Fashion. It was a moment of infinite magic and tremendous joy, and I cannot fully express with words how deeply moved I was by the occasion. I received an outpouring of good wishes from all over the world, which brought me great satisfaction." He went on to explain, "It was a moment that will be impossible to repeat. And so, at this time, I have decided that is the perfect moment to say adieu to the world of fashion," the 75-year-old designer added.

From June 17 through September 21, Decorative Arts Museum pays homage to the career of Valentino Garavant, simply known as "Valentino," with a first of exhibitions based on great, contemporary couturiers. This first Parisian retrospective with its 200 Haute Couture creations and accessories provides an opportunity to look and reflect upon the exceptional career of this Italian designer based in Rome from his beginnings in 1959 through his retirement in January 2008.

Valentino maintains a place in Haute Couture history as the undisputed ambassador of elegance who allies majestic grace with timeless allure. Ever faithful to the needs and lifestyles of his clients, he is not so much a cutting edge innovator as he is a true couturier whose style is both distinguished and sophisticated. His creations are constructed to provide a fluid, feminine and sensual silhouette to a woman's figure. Shapes are clean, fabrics sumptuous and his collections are always drenched in a vast array of gemstone colors often embellished with refined embroidery. The work of Valentino underscores romanticism, modernity and classicism.

Originally from Vaghera, a small town south of Milan Italy, Valentino was always drawn to fashion. After attending Milan's Institute de Mode Santa Marta, he arrived in Paris in 1950 to continue his studies at the Chambre Syndicale de Couture. In 1952 at the age of 20, he entered into the house of Jean Desses where he was introduced to movie stars and high society as a way of comprehending the lifestyles and women he hoped to dress. At Desses, they equally courted a clientele consisting of members of the European Royal Court, Egyptian and Grecian princesses and Queen Fedeva. A huge fan of the theater, he spent a good number of evenings at the Comedie Francaise where he discovered and admired Jean Louis Barrault and Madeleine Renaud.

In 1957, Valentino was hired to work with Guy Laroche who had just opened his own couture house. Later, Valentino left Paris and returned to Rome where, thanks to financial aide from his parents, he opened his own couture house in Rome at 11 villa Condotti. His first collection was cut from intensely colored sumptuous fabrics. This was the point where he introduced a vibrant, passionate red which later became his signature, "Valentino red."

The following year marked the beginning of a long collaboration with Giancarlo Giammeti.  As Italian film makers and movie stars rose to international fame, Rome became the "new Hollywood." As such, Valentino dressed the great actresses of the world's silver screens. Elizabeth Taylor, while filming, order a white gown for the premiere of "Spartacus." He also dressed Audrey Hepburn and Rita Hayworth. In 1964, Jackie Kennedy hired him to design a wardrobe for her while she mourned the death of her husband.

From that point on, a veritable friendship developed between the designer and these ladies who swore by Valentino's creations nearly exclusively. (There were reports of Jackie Kennedy who some seasons purchased the designer's entire collection worth more than the president's yearly salary.) In 1968, Valentino designed an all white collection from which Mrs. Kennedy selected a white lace dress for her marriage to Aristotle Onassis. At the age of 36, Valentino was at the height of his career. In less than a decade, he became the idol to a new generation while incarnating the symbol of modern luxury.

Under the driving force of Giancarlo Giammetti, Valentino's fashion house developed an international dimension with a line of ready-to-wear he introduced in the 1970's which he showed in Paris. On the other hand, he reserved his prestigious couture presentations for the Italian capital. He also hosted sumptuous galas and spectacular launches that reunited the hottest celebrities linked to the world of luxury or to that of the cinema which, in turn, maintained the notoriety of his own career. Valentino always knew how to seduce his clients because, right down to his last collection, he interjected the latest fashion trends into his collection while remaining faithful to his timeless notion of elegance.

This thematic exhibition explores the works of Valentino and underlines the variations and themes which were developed and refined throughout his career. 

The exhibition opens with an exercise in style, incessantly exhibiting the constant variations presented within the designer's stylistic vocabulary. The volumes, lines and textures are repertoires in a palette of colors reduced to the strictest minimum: red, black and white. In effect, depending on the season, his volumes show off or emphasize certain parts of the body while enveloping the silhouette or accentuating movement. Using a palette with voluptuous nuances, Valentino also uses solid, bright colors which transformed the shapes of a dress into the image of a red poppy, which later became his signature color. It comes from a memory traced back to his adolescence when he vacationed in Barcelona or where he attended an opera and was in awe of the women seated in their loge. To him they resembled a bouquet of red flowers.

The second section reveals the types of themes we find in the couturier's collection with items cut from florals or animal prints which contrasts his own work based on geometric shapes. The mastery of techniques of the house takes center stage with a show of pleating, transparent fabrics and ruffles. This part also shows off the richness of the designer's color palette from monochromatic tones to the most surprising mixtures employing abstract or figurative motifs.

In the last room, the exhibition plays homage to the Italian icon by presenting a selection of garments from his last couture collection (January 23, 2008), which was the perfect ending to a long, brilliant career that lasted nearly a half century.

Valentino, Themes et Variations, to Sept. 21, Musée de la Mode et Textile 107, rue de Rivoli 75001 Paris. Tel:  //www.lesartsdecoratifs.fr  Open Tue-Fri: 11am – 6pm / Sat, Sun: 10 am – 6 pm. Entrance: 8 €.

Slide Show credits
Runway Haute Couture spring-summer, 2008 practice. © Francois Halard/Rizzoli International Publications

L'Officiel, March 1991, Haute Couture Collection spring-summer 1991 with LInda Evangelista © Jean Tholance

Haute Couture Collection spring-summer 1968 © Valentino archives

Italian Vogue, March1 1971, Haute Couture Collection spring-summer 1971 with Isa Stoppi and Janette Christensen © Chris Von Wangenheim

Haute Couture Collection fall-winter 2003-2004, archives Valentino © Guy Marineau

Haute Couture Collection spring-summer 2005, archives Valentino © Guy Marineau



France pays homage to Yves Saint Laurent


The French press paid homage to the king of style with cover stories

Adieu to the King of Style —For many of us in fashion, today marks the end of an era. Yves Saint Laurent, the undisputed king of fashion, has been laid to rest and I, like many other style mavens on this planet, mourn the lost of this great fashion legend. Long before there were rebels like Jean Paul Gaultier with his signature conical bras, or innovators like Issey Miyake who transformed objet d'art into sculpted metal bustiers or even Phat Farm's gritty, hip-hop, "streetwear, there was Yves Saint Laurent who introduced all of this and more to the world of high fashion. "I participated in the transformation of my era. I did it with clothes, which is surely less important than music, architecture, painting … but whatever it's worth I did it," the designer said in 2002 upon his retirement.

Image Yves Saint Laurent has always impacted my mode of dress. As a teenager growing up in Detroit, most of the clothes I bought were inspired by him, unbeknownst to me. Only after my arrival in the Paris did I realize that the color-blocked shift I wore on my sixteenth birthday was a line-for-line copy of the French designer's Mondarin dress, and that my canvas safari jacket, my wool sailor pants, my cotton voile gypsy blouse and my three-tiered floral peasant skirt were all lifted from St. Laurent's previous catwalk shows. These clothes made me look and feel good and so it was a thrilling discovery to know I had been part of this man's left bank revolution. Much later, when my finances allowed, I indulged in a few "Rive Gauche" treats: a velvet "artist" smock jacket over matching, straight-legged trousers, a silk charmeuse blouse with a soft bow at the throat, and a gorgeous black cashmere blazer with his signature square shoulders and quarter-sized horn buttons worn simply over jeans…all essential wardrobe staples I continue to wear today. "The most beautiful clothes that can dress a woman are the arms of the man she loves. But for those who haven't had the fortune of finding this happiness, I am there," said Saint Laurent in 1983. Boyfriends have come and gone but Yves has always been there for me.

Born on August 1, 1936 in Orlan Algeria, Yves Henri Donat Mathieu Saint Laurent was inspired by the elegance of his mother. He developed a love for fashion and as a teenager, would design clothes for her. (She, in turn was his most loyal fan, wearing only his designs.) A precocious talent, by the age of 15, Saint Laurent amassed an impressive portfolio. He sent sketches to Michel de Brunhoff, editor of French Vogue, who immediately recommended the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture Couture school to hone his skills. In 1954, Saint Laurent headed to Paris and after briefly attending classes, entered the International Wool Secretariat contest where he won first prize for a cocktail dress: a black silk velvet column tied with a white satin bow he called “Soiree de Paris.'' It attracted the attention of a certain Christian Dior who hired him as his right hand assistant.

For three years, the two men worked closely together until the untimely death of Dior in 1957. Saint Laurent, barely 21 years of age, found himself at the reigns of a 20 million dollar a year empire. His first collection featured his famous "trapeze dress" and was a colossal success, drawing raves from the press who hailed him as the "savior of French fashion." But several seasons later in 1960, a rebellious Yves rejected what he called the "false values of the bourgeoisie," as he introduced "streetwear:" pea coats, knitted turtlenecks, leather jackets and other "chic Beatnik" favorites (meticulously executed in luxury fabrics, of course) into the hushed world of haute couture. This created a scandal and worried the owners. After all, Dior represented 50 percent of French fashion exports and the owners could not take a chance on the impact an unpopular collection would make on the economy. Saint Laurent soon found himself inducted into the army.(There were rumors that this had been orchestrated by Dior's owners as a solution to the "problem.")

After three short weeks, the designer was diagnosed with a nervous breakdown and discharged. Upon returning to Paris, Saint Laurent discovered his contract with Dior had been broken and he had been replaced by Marc Bohan. After Bohan's successful first collection, Saint Laurent sued Dior for severance pay and damages and was thus awarded 680,000 francs (about $140,000). With the help of his companion/financial partner Pierre Berge who found an American investor, J. Mack Robinson (a businessman from Atlanta) Saint Laurent opened his own couture house in 1961. His first collection was presented in 1962 to mixed reviews.

Still he was clearly on track to becoming a major force in French fashion with a brand new, more relaxed style. Saint Laurent was best known for `Le Smoking,''a man's tuxedo re-cut for women, introduced in 1966. New York socialite, Nan Kempner created a scandal when she tried to wear her first tuxedo to a Manhattan, four-star French restaurant in 1968. The maitre d' told her she could not enter wearing trousers and the socialite promptly removed her pants and proceeded to dine wearing only the jacket. Saint Laurent was never afraid of controversy. In 1971, the transparent blouses of his 1940's "Liberation" collection with bare breasts peeking out from under sheer black lace, shocked critics as did the advertising campaign for the first YSL men's fragrance, "Pour Homme," in which he posed nude, wearing only his thick black rimmed glasses. He launched a perfume called "Opium" in the 1980's, reflecting the drug culture prevalent amongst his inner social circle and later, in the 1990's he went to battle with France's Champagne growers for insisting on naming his fragrance after the bubbly wine. (He was forced to change the name to "Ivresse" or "Drunk" in English. In fact, the late Pierre Balmain regarded Saint Laurent as a trouble maker in the world of couture for insisting that the future of fashion was the ready-to-wear market and sealing the deal with the introduction of his "Rive Gauche" line.

He was young, hip and full of effervescent ideas, bringing art and music into his designs. There were homages to his art buddies, Andy Warhol, Picasso, Jean Cocteau and Marcel Proust whose works were reinterpreted in the form of elegant dresses and jackets. Op-art, pop-art and even the French impressionists became beautifully embroidered, wearable works of art worn by the world's fashion plates from the late Jackie Kennedy to muse Catherine Deneuve, Jane Fonda to Paloma Picasso.

In an industry where the uniform is a sea of black, Saint Laurent had an extraordinary color sense that married turquoise, yellow and emerald green or royal blue, mauve and the most shocking of pinks, harmoniously within the same outfit. After attending his couture shows, I would run home and paste color chips into a notebook as a way of documenting the master's color schemes for future reference.

Saint Laurent took us on a wild and wonderful tour of the world to lands as far away as Africa, Eastern Europe and Russia via exotic silhouettes and whimsical color palettes. As with all things that endure, by the mid-1980's Mr. Saint Laurent had traded in his radical skin for that of the elder statesman. The YSL brand had became synonymous with French classic design. Only with the arrival of Christian Lacroix in the mid-1980s did he feel the need to reassert himself as "king of fashion" with a collection extraordinary gowns based on the vibrant paintings of the Van Gogh, Monet and other Impressionists.

The arrival of the 1990 marked the decline of elegance as a younger generation adhered to anti-fashion trends, most notably "grunge." Sales at YSL began to slip and by the end of the decade, the rights to the YSL ready-to-wear label were sold to the Gucci Group NV. By 2002, the world of fashion, now controlled by multi-national corporations dictating cost effectiveness over creativity, had become totally foreign to the couturier. After an illustrious 40 year career, the man known as the king of fashion stepped down and away from his throne, closing his couture business behind him. In his last years out of the spotlight, he suffered from severe depression before finally succumbing to brain cancer last Sunday.

Though Yves Saint Laurent is gone, his work will never be forgotten. Myself, I will continue to wear his classics I have in my wardrobe, updated with, perhaps, a new piece of jewelry or pair of shoes. Says Jean Paul Gaultier, "He was my role model for both the creativity of his clothes which were so Parisian and the elegance of his personal lifestyle. He was the synthesis of the women's social revolution in the late 1960's and was the first to mix up the sexes (clothes-wise). He created a new vocabulary for the modern woman's wardrobe which was right on the mark for the times. It was him and the shock of his "Liberation" collection in 1971 that inspired my (fashion) vocation. In spite of his passing, his work will live on and will always remain relevant to today's lifestyles."

How to shop Parisian style


Susan Tabak

Imagine a custom just-for-you shopping trip to Paris, following an elegant and chic woman dashing through the Paris streets, expertly guiding you and finding and navigating the most unusual, exclusive shops and greeting friends on every corner. You might imagine this woman a chic Parisian but actually she is what her Parisian friends call her "une personage", she is American Susan Tabak, personal shopper and author of CHIC IN PARIS, Style Secrets & Best Addresses, which profiles eight of Paris' most chic, iconic women such as Ines de la Fressange and  Loulou de la Falaise.  

Susan's expert advice comes at a day rate- her clients are businesswomen, socialites and princesses – but there is so much fashion advice and secret addresses in her gorgeous red crocodile covered book, you can get plenty of inspiration for your own shopping trips.

Susan likes to say, the most important key to that elusive Parisian style is to…"be yourself and have confidence – style is about your presence." She adds with a chic laugh, Although, I do like my hair to be just right."

A Francophile all her life, Susan is truly inspired by Paris – the art, architecture, cuisine – not just fashion.  "it's the whole package that turns me on- I feel more like a woman in Paris- feminine – which naturally leads me to shop because I want to look my best."

Here a selection of tips from the Parisian style Icons in Susan's "little red book" :

Image How To Cultivate Individuality

Natalie Rykiel, boutique owner, daughter of Sonia Rykiel

"Look at yourself in the mirror alone. Look at what is good and learn to emphasize it in the best way possible. Have fun and love your self."

Georgina Brandolini, designer, muse to Valentino

"Wear what you feel is good in even if it's not the latest fashion."

Mixing Styles

Ines de la Fressange, Karl Lagerfeld muse, Roger Vivier Ambassador
"I try not to get bored with clothes so I mix a lot of things and go against conventions."

Spela Lenarcic, Design Consultant
"Mixing Balenciaga with vintage wearing Celine for a more sporty look. Most importantly, respect yourself. Sleep is the best beauty product."

Mina Poe, designer, boutique owner
"Mixing and matching, use a lot of color and your imagination."

Three Must-Haves

Marie-Helene de Taillac
"Beautiful lingerie that enhances your figure great shoes and of course jewelry."

Loulou de la Falaise, YSL muse, boutique owner
"Black skinny trousers, a cashmere v-neck in a bright color and a black velvet jacket."

Fashion Faux-Pas

Carole Rochas– Jewelry Designer
"Bad taste is wanting to be too fashionable, accumulating too many brands and wanting to look like someone you are not."

Spela Lenarcic
"Poor taste is a woman who no longer tries or dares to express her personal style.  She has lost her curiosity and no longer cares about pleasing herself or others."

Georgina Brandolini
"To wear the latest trend when it does not suit you."

Marie-Helene de Taillac
"The worst thing is to be dressed from head to tow in the same designer."

Find out more about Susan Tabak at //www.susantabak.com  Susan gives style and culture tips in her popular blog,  //www.chicinparis.wordpress.com   CHIC IN PARIS is available through Amazon.com.



Shopping with a French touch

Village people…


Bercy Village

America has its strip malls; Hong Kong, its streets lined with vendors till dawn. But nothing beats Paris for the variety and originality of its shopper haunts. Spring is the perfect time for an escapade to the numerous "villages," the city's self-contained terrains dedicated to antique objects and art, in particular that of shopping.

VILLAGE SUISSE The Village Suisse (78 av Suffren & 54 av de la Motte Picquet, 15e, M° La Motte Picquet Grenelle) was one of the attractions during the 1900 Paris World Fair. It later fell into disarray and was replaced by a giant Ferris Wheel 20 years later. Junk dealers recouped the site in 1937 and over time the stalls became more gentrified attaining their current upscale status. Today, nearly 150 shops sprawled over 21 000 square meters of space over two levels and nearby streets are open Thursday through Sunday, 10:30am to 7pm. Together they feature everything from 18th century to contemporary artwork and artifacts, period furniture, antique jewelry, books and quite a variety of curios. My favorite places to window shop include Jeanne & Jeremy situated at 45 allée Fribourg. Here, you'll find collector dolls. Then head for Ghislaine Chaplier (65 av Champaubert), a treasure trove of silver thimbles, pocket sewing kits, mother-of-pearl compacts and sterling silver lipstick cases. D. Rousseau specializes in old model ships, while suits of armor, medallions, antique guns and canons are to be found at Aux Armes d'Antan (7 av de Champauret).

LA VALLEE VILLAGE Only 35 minutes from the heart of Paris via train, (RER A, direction "Marne La Vallee-Chessy-Parc Disneyland" to "Val d'Europe"), La Vallée Village (3 cours de la Garonne, 77700, Serris), boasts a hundred international brand of men's, women's and children's clothing as well as chic accessories.. Moreover, prices are reduced and very attractive. Here, shoppers have a vast array of prestigious designer labels to look at; from Agnes b. to Armani, from Cacharel to Christian Lacroix, from Givenchy to Ralph Lauren, Kenzo and Versace, plus many more brands for kids and adults. There is an equally huge selection of gifts and articles for the home from the latest collections by Porsche Design, S.T. Dupont, Lalique, Longchamp and Villeroy & Bosch, among others. Plan to make a day of it. Breakfast at Bert's café, then shop. Pause and have refreshments, and shop some more.

Situated in an area where 300 cloistered nuns resided in the 7th century, and later, from the 14th to the 16th, where the parish of the kings once stood. Today, the Village Saint-Paul is another well-known area for browsing or hunting down old objects.  Open Thursday to Monday  (11am to 7pm), the Village Saint-Paul (M° St-Paul) is a self-contained enclave in an enclosed courtyard with entrances at #7 and #9 rue St-Paul. The cluster of antique and secondhand stores here lines the cobblestone courtyard then spills out onto the rue St-Paul from the quai des Celestins to rue St-Antoine. It is a shopper's paradise for all sorts of items, ranging from furniture and paintings to old cooking utensils and tiny collectibles.Livre d'Antan on the corner of rue Ave Maria and rue St-Paul, has a lovely selection of old books, toys and posters.

One of the more recently restored areas of the city is "Bercy Village," situated near the Bercy Omnisport stadium on the Cour Saint Emilion (M° Cour St-Emilion). Until 1860, this tiny strip was independent from Paris and outside of police jurisdiction. Dancing halls and food vendors set up shop until the wine negotiants moved in and gave the area a new persona. It did not fall out of favor until the 1960s when the Bordeaux wineries began featuring wine bottled "au château" Today, it is a popular spot (particularly on Sundays) to meet for coffee, a bite to eat, catch a movie, or shop. At "Alice: Cultures Complice," situated at #62, Cour St. Emilion, you'll find books, CDs, DVDs and multimedia. Grab a quick bite to eat (or take-out) at her wine restaurant, "Alice Café." If Manga, comic books, posters, T-shirts and other related goods are your passion, check out "Album" at #46. "Pacific Adventures" (#50) features gifts and angling equipment for your next fishing trip.