Paradoxically, the world of the ateliers is light year’s away from the glamour of the couture salons, with their Baccarat crystal chandeliers, Louis XV furnishings, and thick carpeting (in a business where discretion is paramount, the couture houses will often employ thick carpeting throughout to muffle the private conversations between a vendeuse and her clients).
Beyond the House of Dior’s recently refurbished public spaces (courtesy of Peter Marino) with their signature pearl grey accents, shiny reflective surfaces, and artfully placed objets d’art, lies one space the general public never sees. It is the salon where couture’s regular club members come to inspect the clothes close up and try them on for size. It’s decorated with a mishmash (though no less expensive) array of furnishings, while a corner of the room is lined with racks filled with the seasons’ creations. To those accustomed to buying haute couture there is an air of informality that reigns here, as customers try on clothes in front of mirrors and discuss fittings with their vendeuse.
But as one leaves the salon to walk up to the workrooms, the carpeting becomes almost threadbare, and in some cases non existent. The ateliers, which usually occupy the upper most level or attic space of a house, are monastic by comparison. It is here that the seamstresses labor for hours to create the most luxurious garments in the world.
Despite a huge cultural shift in the way couture is presented, many of the industry's traditions haven't changed. The heads of the ateliers still say that multiple fittings remain essential, and the process still takes weeks. Giorgio Armani, who recently started his couture business, is one of the quickest to turn around an order: four weeks for a suit.
At Dior, like the other houses, once an order has been taken dressmakers build a dummy, based on a new client's measurements at the first fitting, which is kept in storage for future orders. It is not uncommon to find mannequins padded out to match an owner's expanding waistline- some showing more than 60 years of expansion that the clients themselves will never get to see.
© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS