There are few things grander or more opulent in fashion than haute couture. Twice a year, a small number of clients and notables ascend on Paris to witness an unfiltered look at the creativity of some of the world’s best designers and artisans. The sets are decadent and the air filled with glamour, all to showcase the detailed craftsmanship of each garment that is paraded down the runway.
Haute couture has traditionally been a world in which one only dreams of participating, which is why I decided it was time to finally satiate my desire to witness this art form firsthand. Enter, Paris Haute Couture Spring 2020.
By way of background, “haute couture” in actuality a very specific, highly regulated industry, which translates to “high sewing” or “high fashion.” The collections are more elevated than prêt-à-porter, the designer pieces with which most are familiar. In the world of haute couture, workers may spend hundreds of hours crafting a single one-of-a-kind garment that has been custom created for a specific client. Showing during couture we ek is largely controlled by France’s Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode. It protects the larger design houses, such as Givenchy and Valentino, as well as designers who work exclusively in haute couture, like Schiaparelli and Jean Paul Gaultier.
I started my trip by arriving at the most charming hotel, Le Dokhan’s, set in a 1910 Belle Epoque building, originally erected as a private residence. The exterior of the V-shaped building is covered in extensive ironwork, elaborately carved limestone dormer windows, and its signature black and white–striped awnings. The interior, also one-of-a-kind, oozes Parisian spirit and charm, thanks to the high-profile French decorator Frederic Mechiche. One can’t help but be drawn to its champagne bar, the first and oldest in Paris, with its parquet floors and wainscoting taken from a 17th-century château.
The upper floors consist of rooms styled as typical Parisian apartments. I was lucky enough to be staying in the Ming Suite—a slathering of blue and white striped walls, curtains, and upholstery mixed with the zing of chinoiserie accents. From the paintings by Matisse and Picasso aside the wood burning fireplace in the sitting room (a rarity in Paris!) to the lift made from a genuine, vintage Louis Vuitton steamer trunk, this hotel is a must see and stay.
After having a day to acclimate (and a night at Bar Hemingway at the Ritz), my show schedule began first thing Monday morning with Schiaparelli at the Palais de Tokyo. The collection was streamlined, yet inventive—and shockingly wearable—with a mix of day- and night-time looks, my favorite being some of the cobalt blue, jewel-encrusted silk confections. From there I moved to Iris Van Herpen at the Cirque D’Hiver, where the designer evoked shapes and movements derived from nature. The artistry was unparalleled and is what I always envisioned when thinking of haute couture.
Later that night was the Giambattista Valli exhibition. In lieu of a traditional runway show, the designer chose to present his latest couture collection at the Jeu de Paume, a small post-modern photography museum in the Tuileries. Each design illustrated Valli’s mastery of color and volume, and had all the makings of the feminine fashion mystique: tulle, bubble hems, beading, bows.
The next day brought me to Alexis Mabille’s show at Sotheby’s, where Dita Von Teese descended a grand staircase in a menswear-inspired sparkling black tuxedo—the black swan, one could say, among the all-white collection. This was followed by Alexandre Vauthier at the Grand Palais and Givenchy at L’ecole de Medecine. Givenchy, with designer Clare Waight Keller at the helm, was a whirlwind of romantically feminine patterns and shapes. With violinists playing while hoisted on pillars, the atmosphere was so magical it brought some to tears.
In need of a little fashion fuel, I then attended a dinner party at the home of a Parisian friend-of-a-friend in the 16th, directly across from the Frank Gehry–designed Fondation Louis Vuitton. After dinner, drinks, and endless laughs, a Galette des Rois, or king’s cake, was served. It’s a sweet French tradition celebrating the arrival of the Three Wise Men in Bethlehem, and consists of a puff pastry confection with a small charm, the fève, hidden inside, the finder being crowned king for the day, or in my case as winner, queen. Quelle surprise!
On my last full day I went to Zuhair Murad at Hotel Potocki, where the beading and sequins was just as impressive as the people watching. In other words, subtle it wasn’t, but well worth the exercise, with one fully sequined gown requiring almost 800 hours of embroidery. My good friend Lionel Geneste then brought me to the Vendôme showroom of the always dapper Elie Top, a jeweler who designed for over 16 years at Lanvin under Alber Elbaz. Elie gave me the privilege of a private tour, and patiently explained the story behind each piece with care and attention.
That evening was Jean Paul Gaultier’s show, and a “show” did he deliver. Doubling as his 50th anniversary and retirement celebration, Gaultier churned out a whopping 200-plus looks, creating a bittersweet fashion moment I feel so proud to have been a part of. The Théâtre du Châtelet was lit with supermodels past and present, celebrities, couture enthusiasts, and everyone in between. Dita Von Teese encored here, swaying her hips down the stage in a corset dress composed of pink satin belts; Coco Rocha came our way doing an Irish jig, chiffon kilt and all; a male model walked the runway in ballet shoes en pointe! Each act was followed by a more extravagant and exhilarating one. Naturally this all culminated in an everlasting standing ovation, the most fitting end as I bade adieu to the haute couture dream that was now a part of my reality