The Secret World of Haute Couture

Monday, 27 October 2014

A few weeks ago I watched the BBC documentary 'The Secret World of Haute Couture' - an exploration of the haute couture industry and its incredibly small and elite 'club' of consumers. I was particularly interested to watch this documentary as the world of haute couture is one that has always fascinated me, particularly considering that the industry is notoriously difficult to infiltrate as made apparent by presenteMargy Kinmonth who attempts to discover the secrets of the industry, made difficult by the unwillingness of both designers and customers to disclose any information about the elusive world of haute couture.

The documentary reveals that, although couture garments no longer tend to make a profit for the designer themselves because of the sheer man hours it takes to create a haute couture piece, resulting in a hefty price tag, the haute couture industry still exists to create an aura of glamour and to strengthen a designer's brand. John Galliano refers the industry as a "pyramid," whereby, "The haute couture is the 'parfum', and it has a huge influence on the ready-to-wear and accessories. We can call these the 'eau de parfum' and the 'eau de toilette'. Everything takes its inspiration from the haute couture." Galliano's description particularly struck me as he succinctly manages to describe the appeal and influence of haute couture which many fail to understand. I, myself, have always been drawn to haute couture collections and have found them invaluable sources of inspiration, particularly within projects during my A-level Art studies. There is something so alluring and magical about haute couture and the collections themselves and I find myself fascinated by the designer's inspiration and idea behind them, which can vary from art movements to religion and even architecture. 

The documentary reveals a rough figure of the price of couture pieces - information which is usually kept secret. Prices vary but for a suit and blouse, one would be looking between $20,000 to $30,000 and for an embroidered dress, you can expect to pay around $200,000. Of course what everyone wants to know is who actually wears these dresses and, more importantly, who can afford them. Whilst the documentary reveals the identities of a few women part of the 'haute couture club', such as philanthropists and women with wealthy businessman husbands, the majority prefer to stay anonymous. "There are many rich people today, who people have no idea who they are or how they look, and they don't want people to know," says Karl Lagerfeld of his couture clients. This is something I found particularly interesting at just how exclusive and media shy members of the haute couture club are; they aren't interested in displaying their wealth, haute couture to them is more a matter of quality as Daphne Guinness comments, "It's like wearing a second skin." 

What I found most surprising is that, throughout the documentary, Kinmonth remained impartial in her opinion towards haute couture, until she tried on a piece herself, choosing not to judge or pass comments about the industry itself and its club members, where many would be quick to judge as superficial. In the documentary's conclusion, Kinmoth tries on a Christian Lacroix haute couture jacket and it was quite clear that immediately she understood the allure of haute couture, evident in her reaction as she twirled around and admired herself in the mirror. Often when things are out of reach to us and are simply not tangible, we tend to dismiss them completely, particularly within the fashion industry - but why should we? Haute couture is an art form and the  clothes themselves are pieces of art - art that of course many of us will be unable to afford in our lifetime, but why should we not have an appreciation for it? I don't see it as dying industry, but instead something that is beautiful and magical and, most importantly, something that should be admired and respected.

Magazine Image Analysis

Last week in our seminar we looked at the analysis of magazines and, in particular, the images within them. The method we used to do so was developed by Roland Barthes, based on the theories of semiotic analysis. Instead of analysing and 'reading' an image immediately, a semiotic analysis consciously slows down this process to work out not only what the image signifies, but also how it has its meaning. To do this you firstly look at the image and note any words or phrases which spring to mind, then decipher what kind of visual it is. You then thoroughly list the elements of the image and then what each of these elements connote. Finally, you take your analysis further by finding out as much as possible about the image by posing questions. 

Image 1:
My initial thoughts regarding this image were; feminine, retro, vintage and nostalgic. 

The image itself is a photo from the November 2014 issue of Vogue from an editorial fashion spread.

The elements within the image are; a complex and busy background with a singular poised model in the foreground, a feminine/vintage aesthetic, a bedroom setup with a vanity and old-fashioned furnishings, make-up left on top of the vanity and a red and pink ensemble worn by the model. 

The connotations of these elements are; the old-fashioned furniture suggests a parent's house, perhaps during the 1980s which also connotes nostalgia, the vanity with make-up left out suggests the model is getting ready for a formal occasion, her poised and unnatural pose mimics a photo a parent might take before prom. This idea of prom night is also emphasised in the singular model, perhaps waiting for a date, and also in her formal attire, co-ordinating accessories and debutante-esque hairstyle. The pink and glitter, evident within the model's outfit, connote a sugary-sweet, youthful and hyper feminine feel. This is juxtaposed by the red of the skirt which makes the ensemble feel far more modern, and perhaps a slight suggestion of maturation.  

The fashion spread itself is entitled 'Halcyon Days' and was shot by Venetia Scott and styled by Bay Garnett. Scott's other work also feels very nostalgic, with most of the styling and set-up being very 'era based' with an almost 'vintage filter effect' to all her work, this being no exception. The initial idea for the shoot was "a snapshot of teenagers playing in the gardens outside Chatsworth House," as Garnett comments, which gave them the title Halcyon Days. This year's Autumn/Winter collections suggested a similar sense of "purposeful timelessness" to the stylist who comments, "I loved the image, and set myself the challenge to illustrate long skirts, typical to the scene in an out-of-the-ordinary way." 

Image 2: 

My initial thoughts with this image were; simple, mysterious, enchanting and fairytale-like.

The image is a Dior advertisement which was featured in the November 2014 issue of V magazine.

The elements within the image are; a wall of ivy, gravel path, red coat, black bag and boots, single model disappearing into the ivy in the foreground and a an architectural statue within the background.

The connotations of these elements are; the red coat connotes Little Red Riding Hood, the model disappearing into the ivy suggests escapism into a secret world or a 'secret garden' which mimics Alice in Wonderland connoting a certain whimsicalness, the architectural statue and gravel path connotes an ornateness, suggesting the image is set in a manor house within France, the red and black and simple silhouette of the outfit suggest modernity which juxtaposes with the romantic and ethereal setting, culminating in what can be described as a modern fairytale.    

The image itself is part of Dior's Autumn/Winter 2014 campaign entitled 'Secret Garden' and is part of a collection of advertisements and short films. The image was shot by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matador in Versailles, both responsible for shooting and filming the campaign, which explains the almost cinematic nature of the image. The trio of models used throughout the entire campaign are said to evoke The Three Graces - goddesses of antiquity embodying beauty, charm and joy, who inspired masterpieces by Raphael and Botticelli. Throughout the campaign, the use of greenery within the chateau gardens emphasise and draw attention the rich colours of the Dior pre-fall collection.

The September Issue

Sunday, 26 October 2014

This week at university, we were shown the documentary 'The September Issue'. The September Issue is undoubtedly one of my favourite ever fashion documentaries which follows legendary Editor-in-Chief at American Vogue, Anna Wintour, and the rest of the creative team during the production of one of the largest September issues to date. 

The documentary is truly insightful and provides a holistic look at the production of one of the most important issues of Vogue in the fashion calendar, giving an exclusive look behind the doors of the infamous Vogue office. It reveals how Wintour became one of the most powerful women within the fashion industry and shows, in my opinion, just how much influence she has, making revolutionary decisions which turn the fashion industry on its head - noted in the documentary as her decision to start featuring celebrities on the cover of Vogue, a notion previously unheard of. 

Ironically another of my favourite films is in fact 'The Devil Wears Prada', with fictional editor of Runway magazine believed to be based on Wintour. I feel that The September Issue can perhaps be viewed as an attempt to humanise Wintour in backlash to her unfavourably portrayal in The Devil Wears Prada, most evident in the scenes with Wintour and her daughter. Of course there are some minor similarities between Priestly and Wintour, both come across as, dare I say, a little frosty and impatient. However, I cannot help but like Wintour and have  nothing but the utmost respect for her after having watched the documentary. Her job is extremely demanding, forcing her to be decisive and have a clear creative direction and image for the magazine, which some may take the wrong way and simply find her bossy - which could not be more wrong. I find her intriguing and a strong, independent, driven woman who I can't help but to admire (and someone I would most definitely invite to my imaginary dinner party). 

Within the documentary we are also introduced to Anna's righthand woman, Creative Director Grace Coddington. It seems that Coddington is truly the antithesis of Wintour, with a very different approach to fashion, as director R. J. Cutler notes, "Anna is all about the 'next', and Grace is most interested in a historical perspective on art and fashion." This is evident within the documentary during Coddington's 1920s inspired photoshoot in which the end result is truly romantic and almost fairytale-like. Sally Singer summaries within the documentary Coddington's view of fashion, commenting that, "She comes from the idea that fashion is this world of play and make believe. It's as if someone's gone to the dressing up box and found the most wonderful, personal things and put them together." This is a quality which I truly admire in Coddington and the documentary shows that she really is a creative genius.

Overall, The September Issue is a must watch for any avid fashion lover as it provides an intimate, and at times humorous, look behind the world's largest fashion publication and its leading figures.

The Art of Storytelling

Friday, 24 October 2014

As Chief Marketing Officer at Virgin Group said, "The best brands are built on great stories." Stories and narratives are fundamental components of successful branding and marketing within all industries, the fashion industry being no exception. Stories tap into our emotions, connecting us with personal experiences. They contain recognisable patterns which help us to find meaning within what we are seeing. Their nature makes them generational and designed to be shared - undoubtedly two main objectives all brands wish to achieve through their marketing. 
Business and marketers should combine the key elements of a good story into their campaigns resulting in a product which is informative, engaging, compelling and entertaining. All of these components can be found within the series of films produced by Chanel entitled 'Inside Chanel'. These short animated films, divided into chapters, unfold the fascinating story behind the world's greatest fashion prodigy, Gabrielle Coco Chanel, revealing how her humble beginnings informed her greatest work and designs and how her legacy continues to live on. 
I was shown 'Coco: Chapter 5' in a lecture this week and felt truly enriched by the history of Chanel - a true delight to watch through the visually compelling animations and heartfelt narrative. I could not believe I had not come across these films before and have spent my afternoon making my way through them all! The films instil to audiences the rich history behind Chanel, showing it be a multi-faceted brand and a cultural turning point. It is clear to see that Mademoiselle Chanel was a pioneer creating a liberating style that truly revolutionised women's fashion. I urge anyone to take a look at these films as after having watched them I feel truly inspired and have nothing but the utmost admiration for Gabrielle Coco Chanel, Karl Largerfeld and the Chanel brand as an entirety.  

"Style is More About Being Yourself"

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

This week the fashion industry lost on of its greatest treasures, designer Oscar de la Renta. A man entirely devoted to making clothes that women would feel beautiful in. I wanted to dedicate this post as a tribute to the wonderful man who epitomised elegance and glamour in all of his designs by sharing a few of my favourites. 

"Being well dressed hasn't much to do with having good clothes. It's a question of good balance and good common sense." 

Brand Bifold

Sunday, 19 October 2014

In our seminar this week we were analysing the similarities between various high street and high end brands. Naturally high street retailers copy trends and designs as seen on the runways of high end designers, however we were encouraged to look beyond this and more at similarities in terms of brand messages and morals.

Firstly, Whistles and Céline. Both promote a very Parisian contemporary way of dressing for the city woman; chic, understated but still very modern. Structured drape are key elements in their designs, formal combining tailoring with more casual, slouchy silhouettes. Muted colour palettes are prevalent within both, either monochrome, neutrals or muted pastels.

Chloé and Monsoon - these brands are both enchanting and ethereal, catering for the free-spritired woman. Both are nostalgic of 1970s bohemian way of dressing but with a feminine edge. Loose and floaty silhouettes are key, creating a very romantic feel.

We were then encouraged to create our own high street/high end bifold combinations and I chose Zara and Givenchy. Both brands promote an understated and refined European elegance with a modern, urban edge. They provide cutting edge as well as classic designs for the confident woman.

Marc Jacobs & Louis Vuitton

Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton - a partnership in the fashion world which has never ceased to amaze me. Throughout his sixteen years at Louis Vuitton, Jacobs has managed redefined the brand and its ready-to-wear line, producing fresh and innovative runway shows each year. The pair are also responsible for one of my favourite ever fashion collections, the Spring/Summer 2012 line - a culmination of carousels, creamsicle colours and of course Kate Moss. Thus, I was extremely saddened to hear of Jacob's departure from the brand last year. However, I was more than excited when I was given the chance to watch the 2007 documentary, Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton, which gives an insight into the partnership of the fashion houses. 

I was expecting the documentary to err on the side of The September Issue, a very serious and polished look into the world of Jacobs and Vuitton, however I was surprised to find that the documentary was in fact the total opposite. Whilst the documentary did give unprecedented access into the world of both fashion houses and their partnership, the main focus was in fact on Jacobs and his creative processes for both brands. Jacobs appears to be the polar opposite of LVMH bosses Bernard Arnault and Yves Carcelle which naturally adds to the documentary's humour, making it a lighthearted watch at times but all the while painting a very likeable portrait of Jacobs indeed.    

The documentary, in my opinion, shows how Jacobs is truly an artist, taking inspiration from everywhere and everything. It is easy to see how over the years he has totally transformed the Louis Vuitton brand, producing innovative fashion pieces and accessories through collaborations with other artists. It was fascinating to watch the design process and build up Jacobs and his team undergo for each brand, whether it be cutting up and artfully destroying garments for his eponymous line or merging several different Louis Vuitton bags together to create the infamous 'Patchwork Bag' for the French fashion powerhouse. 

Jacobs's work ethic and tenacity is undoubtedly proved during the build-up to each runway show and the long hours spent with his team in his workhouse, as well as the continuous travelling back and forth from New York and Paris. He is a man totally focused and driven by his work and who is truly passionate about the industry he works in, something which I truly admire.  

The documentary is a must-watch for any fashion lover as a provides a truly fascinating insight into one of America's greatest designers.

Beauty Brand Communication

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Our task this week in FCP was to understand how companies communicate their beauty products. We were assigned the product of mascara and were required to analyse how value, mass, middle and high end beauty brands were communicating their product through product, price, promotion, imagery, packaging, people and place.

I was excited for this task as beauty has always been a passion of mine and as a, dare I say, major consumer of beauty products I was interested to take a different stance and analyse just how these different brands were communicating their products, and in particular mascara, to myself and other consumers.

Within our team we decided which brands from each category we would focus on, choosing at least three from value, mass, middle and high end and visited Boots, Superdrug and House of Fraser to begin our research. We photographed different mascaras focusing on brand's points of sale, packaging and promotion choices. We then collated the images we had collected, both primary and secondary sources, onto an A3 mood board. We arranged our images by category - value, mass, middle and high end - adding annotations which contained our analysis of how these brands were communicating their products to consumers. We found that each category varied in their approaches of communication and in particular mass and high end beauty brands. Whilst mass brands, such as Rimmel and Maybelline, essentially have to compete with each other, using the brightest colours and claiming the most extravagant results, high end brands such as YSL are far more sophisticated in their approach using monochromatic or metallic colours and very minimalist, almost fashion editorial images to promote their product.

With hindsight, I would have changed the way we presented our findings onto our mood board. I would have condensed our images to make our mood board less cluttered and organised our images by similarities and/or differences rather than by category. This would have been more successful and would have allowed us to compare each category in depth rather than treat them in isolation. I would have also included words and phrases used by the brands we analysed to describe their mascaras as well as including a more explicit consideration of colour palettes and schemes.

Street Style

Friday, 10 October 2014

During our induction week at University we were given a Street Style brief, requiring us to work in teams to take photographs of people within Nottingham, focusing on their outfits, accessories and how they styled themselves. The brief stated that we were working for a visual trend research agency that had been hired by an innovative fashion label who were not looking for generic pictures of good-looking people all dressed the same - they wanted us to discover style influencers and individuals. So off we went, armed with only a camera.

Having watched the documentary 'Bill Cunningham New York' before embarking on our Street Style mission, this had given us food for thought about how to approach the brief. High quality images would be necessary so, rather than using our iPhones, we turned to a slightly more professional camera owned by one of our group members to ensure minimal blurry images.

We didn't really have game plan or strategy when it came to photographing. All we knew is that we wanted a variety of both men and women as well as a myriad of ages and we all agreed we needed to focus people who stood out from the crowd and had their own defining sense of style. These requirments made us realise just how difficult Street Style photography really is, which is made to look effortless by legends such as Cunningham and Scott Schuman of the infamous Street Style blog 'The Sartorialist'. Having to photograph individuals and seek out these style influencers particularly made me realise just how much we all dress incredibly similar in this day and age, following the same trends and resulting in essentially 'fashion clones'. This naturally made the process more difficult, combined with our very random process of going about the brief which, in hindsight, could have been more planned and refined. However, the world of Street Style photography is very random and coming across those rarities with a truly individual sense of style is unpredictable.

The brief as a whole was a fantastic bonding experience, allowing us to form friendships within our groups; crucial within the first week of University. In addition to this it forced us to be brave and step out of our comfort zone. Approaching strangers and asking to photograph them is, I think it is fair to say, a little daunting, so working as a team to overcome this was extremely beneficial.

We then collated these images onto a Pinterest board and here are a few of the shots we took;

So a few lessons learned from our Street Style brief; Street Style photography is a lot more difficult than it looks (natch), but is an extremely effective way of seeing how trends are permeated throughout the streets and how people can be categorised and defined through their clothing choices, also individualism is particularly slim but priceless when found. So in summary; be brave and be different.

Bill Cunningham New York

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Within Mademoiselle C, an old friend made a cameo appearance, photographer Bill Cunningham. I watched the documentary 'Bill Cunningham New York' last week and there are undoubtedly connections between both the documentary concerning Cunningham and Mademoiselle C. Much like Mademoiselle C, within the documentary there is a strong focus on Bill's personal life and his character. This is executed far better than within Mademoiselle C as the insight into Cunningham's life comes from fashion professionals and muses of Cunningham's adding a certain depth to the documentary. This combined with the fact that these individuals, and the glamorous world of fashion, are very much the binary opposites of Cunningham's very ordinary life and character which makes the documentary all the more fascinating.

Although Cunningham is a leading figure in the fashion industry, the documentary almost gives the perspective of the industry from an "outsider's" point of view, feeling a little more believable and far more endearing than Mademoiselle C. Roitfeld is very much immersed in the elusive world of high fashion, whereas Cunningham prefers to keep somewhat of a distance, a distance which manifests as his camera. Altogether the documentary is incredibly interesting and heartfelt, providing a wonderful insight into street style and how trends from the runway are filtered down to the masses on the street and vise versa.

Queen Carine

Ah, Carine Roitfeld; the legend herself and ultimate queen of Parisian chic. This woman has always been a muse of mine but having watched the documentary 'Mademoiselle C', I definitely have more  of an appreciation for Miss Roitfeld herself. The documentary gave an insightful look into the fashion industry, particularly that of publications - a sector of industry which particularly interests me. The build-up to the release of Roitfeld's new magazine, 'C.R.', undoubtedly showed Roitfeld's hardworking and tenacious character, as well as that of her team, and how determination and perseverance is key to surviving and making it within the industry.

However, like most documentaries concerning fashion, Mademmoiselle C did glamourise the fashion industry and the characters within it to add entertainment and comedic value for the audience. The documentary definitely had a strong focus on Carine Roitfeld's life and her progression into grand-motherhood, rather than focusing solely on the ins and outs of the industry, and simply brushed over her dispute with Condé Nast which, if pursued, would have added another element to the documentary perhaps putting on a par with 'The September Issue'.

Now for fashion. For most, and certainly for myself, Roitfeld is a huge style inspiration. The documentary certainly inspired me to embrace the effortlessly chic Parsian style that Roitfeld does so well. Her usually all black outfits are so seamlessly put together; pencil skirt, button down shirt and a pair of killer heels. All topped of with a super smoky eye and strong brow. I'm now off to scour Zara for the perfect pencil skirt!

Recent Blog Discoveries

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

I'm constantly on the look out for new blogs to read, adding to my already expansive Bloglovin' feed, be that new beauty, fashion or lifestyle blogs.

First up, She's in the Glow, a beauty blog founded by New York-based make-up maven Annie Atkinson. I am still in shock and ever so slightly disappointed with myself that I have not come across this blog sooner. It's everything I love in a blog; beauty musings, product reviews, incredible NYFW backstage coverage and beautiful photography. Atkinson covers the latest make-up trends and beauty products and it's quite clear that this girl definitely knows her stuff (and products), making She's in the Glow an insightful read for any beauty junkie.  

Next is The Teacher Diva, Dallas-based fashion blogger Ashley Robertson and yes, you guessed it, teacher. I first came across Robertson on Instagram whilst looking for Kate Spade stationery - sad but true. This girl sure has one pretty desk space (and quite the collection of Kate Spade stationery), but gosh does she have incredible style, cleverly mixing both high street and designer gear to create beautifully pulled together outfits. Like any pro fashion blogger her OOTD posts are beautifully executed with high quality photography and links to all the pieces she is wearing. With a little beauty and lifestyle thrown in there too, The Teacher Diva is fast becoming a favourite blog of mine.

And lastly, but not least, we have Eat.Sleep.Wear - the personal style blog of Kimberly Pesch and another find through Instagram. Splitting her time between L.A. and New York, fashion blogger and graphic designer Pesch documents her everyday looks with image heavy posts allowing her to showcase her effortless style and chicness in concise daily servings. Whilst I'm not a total fan of the blog design, the content certainly speaks for itself here (and her gold Gucci Soho Disco bag has been added to my wish list).