Friday, May 30, 2008

The San Francisco Couture Club

Clockwise Left: Christine Suppes in Christian Lacroix Haute Couture, Fall 2005; Tatiana Sorokko in two looks from Chado Ralph Rucci, Fall & Spring 2007; Sako Fisher in Gaultier Paris, Fall 2002.

Christine Suppes:

Christine Suppes is best known within fashion circles as the pioneer responsible for giving birth to web-based fashion journalism. In 1998 she launched the website FashionLines, long before fashion specific sites such as became prevalent on the web.

Suppes’ initial idea for the site was hatched after her husband inspired her to fuse her love of fashion with the internet. It was an idea that appealed to Suppes, who was ready for a change after spending a few years writing articles for various print magazines and book reviews for The San Francisco Chronicle. So with a small staff comprised of a webmaster, graphic artist, and writers, she began her venture into uncharted territory. But at the time of its launch, many in the industry were skeptical of the level of credibility that such a site could achieve, even with Suppes as its publisher and editor in chief.

According to Suppes at the time, “A lot of fashion people are still intimidated by the internet and lack the imagination to see what this particular medium could and can do for them and their businesses. A lot of New York and Paris based fashion people didn’t take a Silicon Valley based fashion internet publication seriously until we gave them a track record they could not ignore.”

Soon doors began to open after designers realized the kind of rapid exposure that Suppes’ online venture could provide. That moment became a harbinger of things to come, such as the current phenomenon, where by obscure fashion bloggers are courted by designer houses with free samples and invitations to shows; all in the hopes that they will write positively about them to an ever expanding online readership.

What is less known about Mrs. Suppes is that she is one of a handful of women in the world who buy haute couture, and one of the slightly larger few who began championing and wearing Rodarte at the beginning of the Mulleavy sisters’ career.

When it comes to viewing Haute Couture, Suppes would prefer to pass on the elaborate shows for the intimacy of the couture salon. “Personally this is my favorite way to see the collections, the only way one can really appreciate the craftsmanship, the embroideries and the hundreds of hours that have gone into the making of each garment,” says Suppes.

A regular client at Jean Paul Gaultier, Lacroix, and the design trio On Aura Tu Vu, (who barely get any mention in the international press), Suppes believes that the customers for such exquisite frocks play a vital role in the evolution of Couture as a craft. "Haute couture needs a champion," says Suppes, "Or it will go away."

For Suppes, a trip to one of these ateliers is all about lavish attention, "It's very homey at Lacroix; the dressing rooms are small and intimate; somewhat cooler at Gaultier, where you are being fitted in a much larger room. They even measure your fingers," she went on.

"Some people buy cars or planes or boats, others buy art. I buy Lacroix. And one day, I will donate them to museums," Suppes says.

Despite being destined for such hallowed surroundings, one may be surprised to learn that storing these opulent creations is not a full-time job, and each client seems to have her own technique. In Suppes’ case, she prefers to use the wide hangers that come with the gowns (to carry the weight of the beading). She stores her gowns in regular closets, but she does keep the lighting low. "My contractor wanted to put a skylight in my closet. I said, 'Are you crazy?' I had a window removed instead."

Tatiana Sorokko:

If you paid attention to fashion in the 1990’s then you might recognize the name Tatiana Sorokko as belonging to one of the most successful models of the period. With her Asia-meets-Europe exotic looks, this Russian model quickly rose up the ranks of the profession becoming a frequent fixture on the international catwalks, as well as the pages of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. She was also a favorite of many designers, including Giofranco Ferre.

It was during those years that she developed an appreciation for the art of couture; modeling for the likes of Dior, Saint Laurent, and Valentino, while assisting at countless fittings before collections. Such an experience was the best education for a future couture client, but little did she realize it at the time.

By the end of her modeling career she had shifted to a new role as an editor for the recently launched Russian edition of Vogue. Today she lives with her husband, gallery owner Serge Sorokko, in San Francisco where she continues to work for Russian Vogue as its editor-at-large and as a private style consultant.

As a couture collector she is unique in that she has chosen to focus on the work of a single designer, Ralph Rucci. The pair have known each other since the 90’s, during Sorokko’s modeling days. Today she arguably owns one of the largest collections of Chado Ralph Rucci clothing on the West Coast and wears it almost exclusively, preferring “to have dialogue with one single designer”.
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