As many of you know, in March I decided to start a series of webinars with a dear friend of mine Deidré Guevara Gallegos. In these virtual sessions, we talk about people that have played an important role in the world of French haute couture and society. The idea came up during a trip to Miami and it rose out of my desire to learn more about the haute couture industry and its history.
This is why I decided to approach Deidré, who is an expert on the subject and has a bachelor’s degree in teaching and a master’s in art history. We met in Paris during a trip with Saint Laurent, during which she was responsible for explaining the history of this French brand to us. Unfortunately, because of my busy Paris Fashion Week schedule, I was unable to take the course, but ever since I’ve wanted to approach her and learn more about art, fashion, and history.
After Diedré accepted, it occurred to me that perhaps not only I would be interested in learning about the history of haute couture. That’s why I decided to take this to my various platforms and share it with each and every one of you. The webinar has been a total success, and I’m very happy and excited.
Every individual that we’ve talked about in the previous sessions has been not only important in the fashion world but also influenced and changed the course of the established canon for the society in which they lived. At the end of the day, I think that fashion is a reflection of what we’re experiencing at the time and our manner of dressing, thinking, and consuming is always affected by what’s going on around us.
Even though each class is focused on a different person from the fashion industry, we also wanted to show how they were important to history and the society in which they lived as well.
Next week there will be no class because of Spring Break, and I know that many of you are parents and vacation time is spent with your loved ones. But I wanted to share a brief summary of our prior classes with you, including a list of movies related to what we’ve been learning these past weeks. So, sit back on the couch with some buttered popcorn and watch!
Marie Antoinette, the Beginning of a Couture Romance
In our first class, we talked about Marie Antionette, who was the precursor for what we now call haute couture. The last queen of France was a pioneer in all senses of the world. She was considered the ambassador of her county and through her clothing, she told the story of France’s beauty and history. Beyond just her unique, peculiar style, Marie Antionette was a very intelligent woman who fought for women’s liberation and hated corsets. She invented the la robe à la française,and fashion started changing in the Versailles Court and France. Thanks to the back and forth between Marie Antoinette and her designers and stylists, various new concepts that we continue to use today were created without their knowing it at the time. She created the fundamentals for the industry: designers, stylists, magazines, boutiques, and the textile industries like that of Lyon and that of French silk.
What film should you watch? Marie Antoinette (2006)
Directed by: Sofia Coppola
This choice is an obvious one. This historical drama written and directed by Coppola is a portrait of the young queen, starting with her arrival at Versailles and ending with the start of the French Revolution. Marie Antionette, played by Kirsten Dunst, gets wrapped up in intrigues and drama as she wears one of the most iconic wardrobes the big screen has ever seen and that went on to win an Oscar.
Where to watch: https://sira.link/maria-antonieta-reina-adolescente
Eugenia de Montijo, the Empress of Haute Couture
In our second class, we traveled to 1853, when Napoleon III married Eugenia de Montijo. This Spanish aristocrat was becoming an empress right at the beginning of La Belle Époque. At that time, Paris became the City of Lights; living in the city was the elegant thing to do and a new social class began to emerge: the bourgeoisie. The consumption of luxury products and fashion began to increase at unprecedented levels never seen before the French Revolution. Eugenia, together with English designer Charles Frederick Worth, made French fashion the most desired in the world. During this time, getting dressed was an art: the crinolines, the corsets, the lace, the gowns, the jewelry—every occasion had a dress code and Eugenia was the one running the show. She decided what colors would be used each season and even which perfumes. Thanks to this empress, we have fashion icons that are still active today, such as Louis Vuitton and Guerlain. It was during this era that haute couture was truly born. The construction of each piece became an act of art-making.
What film should you watch? The Age of Innocence (1993)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
I’d love to be able to recommend a film in which we could learn more about Eugenia de Montijo’s interesting life or Charles Frederick Worth’s creative mind. But, the truth is that when I think about the fashion of that time, the first movie that comes to mind is The Age of Innocence, which takes place in the 1870s. If we look beyond the romantic and tragic story of Ellen Olenska, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, we’ll see the masterful design behind each of the dresses worn by the film’s protagonists, pieces that were influenced by the fashion established by Eugenia de Montijo.
Where to watch: https://sira.link/the-age-of-innocence
Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, Liberating Women and Breaking Fashion Stereotypes
The last session of the webinar focused on Chanel, its rise to fame, and what it did for women’s liberation. After the First World War, during the 1920s, everyone just wanted to live life, be free, and enjoy. At the same time, the suffragist movement was gathering strength, and women wanted the right to vote and work. So, it wasn’t strange that Gabrielle Chanel’s would become popular—her tomboy style of wide-leg pants and mariner-style tops quickly won the hearts of French high society. Chanel revolutionized the industry with its jewelry, its emblematic Chanel No. 5 perfume, and its makeup line. Coco managed to democratize fashion and liberate women through their clothing choices. We dress like we do today because Coco Chanel did not conform to the rules 100 years ago.
What film should you watch? Coco avant Chanel (2009)
Directed by: Anne Fontaine
There are many films about the history of Chanel, but I can’t decide which is my favorite. Audrey Tatou’s interpretation of the role, for example, is sensational. I like to learn about the start of Gabrielle’s career and how she transformed into the renowned designer we all know today. We see the woman behind the legend and in the final scene, when we see the designer watch her own runway show on the iconic stairs of 31 Rue Cambon, it always gives me goosebumps and makes me want to go back in time to meet her.
WATCH IT HERE: https://sira.link/coco-avant-chanel
So, there you have it. Each of these films provides a glimpse into what we’ve been talking about in our classes. And, for those who haven’t been able to join us, these movies can give you an idea of what the webinars have been about, and if you’d like, you can attend the next session with Diedré on Tuesday, April 6th by clicking here: https://sira.link/webinar
Get your favorite snack ready (mine is a plate of French Fries), and sit back on the couch because it’s time to watch the history of haute couture unfold.