Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Paris Haute Couture’s Young Houses

Most designers will not set up their own couture house until they acquired a number of years of apprenticeship at an existing couture establishment. Even then they face the daunting challenge of meeting the Chambre Syndicale’s stringent criteria for admittance into this exclusive group. Upstart couturiers must find property for their house in Paris, as well as employ a certain number of seamstresses in two ateliers (one for dress making, the other for tailoring). There is also the question of presenting a certain number of outfits twice a year, and the cost involved in paying for materials and labor.

Within haute couture, designers in their mid-30’s and early 40’s are often considered young, as it takes years of experience to gain the level of technical knowledge and savoir faire required of an accomplished couturier. Here are examples of two emerging young couturiers on the Paris scene.

Top row: Anne Valerie Hash

Anne Valerie Hash is not only one of the youngest designers currently showing on the haute couture schedule, but a rarity in a business dominated by men. Although she’s shown her ready-to-wear collections during couture week in the past, the July 2007 season was the first time she mounted an haute couture show in the turn-of-the-century Paris synagogue which now serves as her atelier.

When the diminutive designer first launched her label five years ago, she gained a reputation for deconstructing men's suiting and reassembling them into feminine clothes for women. But over the years her style and technique have gradually evolved and this was most apparent in her recent couture collection where she presented short, sculpted mini-dresses and suits in jewel-tone satins embellished with hand-beading by the house of Lesage.

Prior to launching her own label, Hash worked for a slew of fashion houses in various capacities after graduating from Paris' prestigious Chambre Syndicale School of haute couture in 1995 (the training ground for most future couturiers). Unlike some fashion schools with curriculums focused heavily on theory and design. The Chambre Syndicale’s school is known for its intense concentration on technical knowledge, addressing a garment’s construction, fabrication, and detailing (all the hallmarks of couture). Those who graduate from this rigorous institution are able to construct a garment from start finish on their own.

"I worked in the studio at Chanel, the atelier at Christian Lacroix and Christian Dior with Gianfranco Ferre and in the press office of Karl Lagerfeld. But I was never more than three months at any one place. If you work too long for any designer you adopt their style and I didn't want that," explained Hash.

Although she began as a guest member, she was recently invited by the Chambre Syndicale to become a full member. A great accomplishment for a French designer who claims she cannot sketch (and never does), yet has managed to developed her own creative techniques through deconstructing clothes that she then drapes, pleats and rebuilds into her innovative designs.

Bottom Row: Stéphane Rolland

The Spring 2007 couture season saw the emergence of another new couture house on the Paris couture schedule. After 10 years at the helm of Jean-Louis Scherrer Haute Couture, Stéphane Rolland launched his own couture house at 10 Avenue George V.

Rolland could be considered haute couture’s wunderkind. Of French aristocratic decent, he grew up in the South of France, Argentina, and the West Indies, before settling in Paris to study at the prestigious Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. After graduating he went on to work at the house of Balenciaga. Initially hired to design menswear for the house, he was soon promoted to creative director within a year.

At 24, Rolland left Balenciaga to design his own prêt-à-porter collection in 1991. Success came immediately and in its first year of business he was stocked in 80 boutiques and department stores around the world.

Despite starting off in ready-to-wear Rolland always dreamt of practicing haute couture and his big break finally came in 1997, when he was tapped by the house of Jean-Louis Scherrer to design its haute couture, ready-to-wear and accessories lines. Thus at 30 he became the youngest couturier working on Paris’ Avenue Montaigne. Although his collections for the house seldom received press coverage or were rarely considered avant-garde, what is astounding is the that he was able to turn a profit for the house through its haute couture operations alone, attracting a large number of clients.

Rolland pointed to several factors when asked about his decision to leave Scherrer after so many successful years of designing for the house. Recently turning 40 and working in haute couture for 10 years, he felt it was time to pursue his own dreams of establishing a couture house under his name. He certainly is not lacking in customers, as many of his Middle Eastern clients from Scherrer have followed him to his new house. What is interesting is that his first couture collection under his own name also marked a departure for him stylistically (from fussy and some would say conservative clothes for “a woman of a certain age”) to a much younger, modern and streamlined proposition. In addition to couture he plans to produce a demi-couture line.
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