Much as Virginia Woolf once insisted that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” I believe that many women crave a dress of their own. These are the women — myself included — who read Wharton’s The Age of Innocence and drooled as young brides went to Paris and returned home with trunks filled with dresses tailored to their specifications. It is this desire that drives women to spend an average of about $1,800 on a wedding dress and get it fitted perfectly, or to spend days shopping for the perfect prom dress, the perfect New Year’s dress… you get the gist.
How is it, then, that couture — the backbone on which these fashion impulses rest — seems to be nearing its demise? The definition of haute couture itself is protected by law in France (only in France) and, as of early 2007, only ten fashion houses in Paris actually practice the art. People constantly confuse haute couture with prêt-a-porter (ready-to-wear). Indeed, to my shock and horror, as I was telling the daughter of a friend that I’d been poring through the couture collections in Paris and she said, “Oh, I love Juicy Couture,” I practically pulled a Heston and screamed “Damn you all to hell!”
It was with one eye on their notebooks and one eye on the decline of couture that the fashion community marched to Orangerie at Versailles for Dior’s 60th Anniversary Collection. Despite the fact the collection brought Gisele, Linda, Shalom, Helena and Amber to the runway, even Sarah Mower of Vogue was quick to remark that the collection had an “elegiac” note to it, as John Galliano tightened the reins on his usual over-the-top theatrics and favored romantic gowns and black suits. Karl Lagerfeld also designed a kind of futuristic funereal chic for Chanel, mixed with Amelia Earhart in sequins. LaCroix evoked a dark, magical gypsy look with a nod to excess, with draped jewels and hair piled high.
Running through these sober strands, however, were the same threads that drew me to fashion in the first place: An art, an architecture with the female form as its muse. Indeed, goddesses and saints were abundant: Christian Lacroix walked a Virgin Mary (complete with massive halo), Chanel evoked a glittering Joan of Arc, Dior created ambassadors and star-crowned queens. Feeling like a goddess as we sashay through life — isn’t that what we all hope fashion will bring us?