*NOT* Ready to Wear: Luxury Fashion with Wendy Evens

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“How many more months until July?” 

I found myself pondering that important fashion question back in chilly February, while viewing the Fall/Winter 2014 ready-to-wear collection shows at New York Fashion Week.


Excited anticipation filled me from head to toe.  Five little months.  Five months until my most favorite fashion season of the year  –  summer! 

Yes, I love when July comes around more than anything.  Sunshine, outdoors and chic clothes of the season  that I’ve been waiting to wear all winter, pared with gorgeous, bright-colored nail polishes on manicured hands.  And of course… the water!  Fun and flirty bathing suits that you have been planning for your summer vacation to wear!  Plus, it is when the best of fashion shows its wares.

Luxury fashion has many meanings.  Also called ‘luxury goods’ or ‘luxury brands’, there are hundreds of companies who have entered the elite retail sector from wine to boots, to cars to watches.  Some people, when they hear the word ‘luxury’ think of millionaires driving their Bentley’s around Beverly Hills or down Worth Avenue in Palm Beach.  Some may think of fox or sable furs wrapped around the female shoulders of the Who’s Who crowd at an exclusive, high-profile Hollywood or Cannes movie premiere.  or maybe even those who wear dark sunglasses 24/7 in public so as to not be ‘noticed’ doing normal-people things like walking down a busy New York sidewalk in daylight hours.  Then of course, attending even more lavish red carpet affairs and private parties… all = luxury. 

Luxury fashion represents not only a brand of the BEST, but also creates a very real human emotion or feeling. And, that is exactly what ‘luxury’ fashion is all about: the feeling of being exclusive, VIP-material and high-profile.  Or as the media journalist Robin Leach used to say, “the lifestyles of the rich and famous”. 

Despite the exclusivity of what may be on the floors of Neiman Marcus, Barney’s New York or the like, luxury fashion is very attainable these days.  It’s in every major market now on the planet, including the Americas, Europe, Asia and UAE.   Some cities and regions even host their own Luxury Fashion Week with luxury car makers like Rolls Royce as corporate sponsors, with private clients and exclusive parties.  So, while you may not personally be seated aboard your private jet, sipping Champagne en route to Paris for the Haute Couture show in July, dressed in your custom-made Armani ‘prive’ (private label) pantsuit, just remember that fabulous, iconic Saint Laurent lip gloss you stashed in your Burberry handbag before leaving your home is the whole reason luxury fashion is a billion dollar a year business.  Billion.  As in nine zeros.

Luxury fashion is also known as Haute Couture, and in July it is my #1 favorite of all the collection shows throughout the year.  Better than ready-to-wear, resort, swimwear, men’s or bridal.  It’s in Paris.  It’s gorgeous.  And, it’s personal.  Every garment is sewn with talented hands, stitch by stitch  –  no machines are allowed.  And that’s what makes it’s high price point justified.  Haute Couture literally means “high sewing,” “high dressmaking” or “high fashion.” It refers to the creation of exclusive custom-fitted gorgeous dresses, pants, blazers, suits and gowns crafted by the most talented clothing designers today and since the 1900s.

And while luxury equates to quality, only a handful of fashion designers pass the high-fashionable grade and  are granted the status of ‘couture’ on their labels and advertising.  The members of the Fédération française de la couture, du prêt-à-porter des couturiers et des créateurs de mode (English: French Federation of Fashion and of Ready-to-Wear of Couturiers and Fashion Designers) determine who makes the cut. 

July in Paris is when local Parisians skip town for the humid, hot summer months to vacation on the cooler, salty, blue coastline of beach towns to the south like Saint Tropez.  And that’s when the luxury fashion set gather to the bi-annual haute couture shows.  

Now, you may be thinking that you are not be ‘rich enough’ or one of the several hundred women to be apart of the luxe haute couture crowd.  But you, my fashionable reader, are already a big part of the luxury fashion genre, the big extension from haute couture. Haute Couture fashion houses such as Dior, Chanel, Valentino, Versace and Louis Vuitton, to name a few, are very well-positioned and branded names and well recognized logos all over the world.  They also are luxury brands and members of the haute couture family.  So, chances are high that even if you don’t have a custom-made designer outfit in your closet, you still may have a piece of their luxury in the form of make-up (remember that Saint Laurent lip gloss I mentioned earlier?), wallet, key chain, sunglasses and a gorgeous scarf, handbag or shoes. 

In modern France, haute couture is a “protected name” by law that can be used only by firms that meet certain well-defined standards. However, the term is also used loosely to describe all high-fashion, custom-fitted clothing. 

The Chambre syndicale de la haute couture is defined as “the regulating commission that determines which fashion houses are eligible to be true haute couture houses”.  Their rules state that only “those companies mentioned on the list drawn up each year by a commission domiciled at the Ministry for Industry are entitled to avail themselves” of the label haute couture.

The Chambre also deals with piracy of style, foreign relations and coordination of the fashion collection time tables, and do some international advertising for the French fashion industry.  They also run a Paris couture school to teach the couture trade to upcoming designers and technicians. The school helps bring  in new talent  to help the couture houses that are still present today.  The criteria for haute couture were established in 1945 and updated in 1992.

To earn the right to call itself a couture house and to use the term haute couture in its advertising and any other way, members must follow these rules:

  • Designs made-to-order for private clients, with one or more fittings.
  • Have a workshop (atelier) in Paris that employs at least fifteen people full-time.
  • Must have twenty full-time technical people in at least one atelier (workshop).
  • Twice per year, present a collection to the Paris press, comprising at least thirty-five runs/exits with outfits for both daytime wear and evening wear.

Back here in the Americas,  I know some friends and industry colleagues who save their-hard earned paychecks all year to add that new piece of luxury in to their possession from Escada, Alexander McQueen, Fendi or Prada until they have almost matching……everything.  The wallet, iPhone case, iPad case, key fob, wallet, socks, belt, dress, jacket, earrings, shoes, perfume, ring, handbag, suitcase, wardrobe hanger and the long list of accessories and clothing with the designer’s uber -famous signature logo goes on.  They feel part of a higher class society.

What luxury is out to achieve, it does very well and why we pay $300+ for the smallest piece of whatever they are selling that we have decided, we just have to have it.  A luxury piece from my wardrobe is my Italian Cashmere wrap from luxury goods maker, Loro Piana. I feel amazing when it’s soft fibers brush my skin, and with the perfume-scented, cooler summer nights finally here, there really isn’t a better time of the year to feel a little (or a lot) of luxury around you too

Wendy Evens, BeautyLook Fashion Editor

Photography:  Jim Jurica