Blinded as we are by the glare and glamour of haute couture, we often fail to recognize that in the French language the word "couture" simply denotes the act of sewing, of stitching things together to turn fabric into clothes. Yesterday morning in Paris Karl Lagerfeld reminded us of this often-forgotten truth and decided to pay a heartfelt tribute to the seamstresses, tailors and pattern cutters of Chanel's couture ateliers on Rue Cambon.
For the maison's autumn/winter 2016 haute couture show, Lagerfeld recreated the Cambon ateliers inside the Grand Palais, asking Chanel's artisans to go about their daily tasks while models walked down a circular runway with the workers as their backdrop.
The collection centered on the two key pillars of a couture maison: the atelier flou, responsible for dressmaking, here represented by light and airy pleated chiffon gowns and body-skimming A-line dresses trimmed with feathers and embroidered with sequins, and the atelier tailleur, responsible for tailoring, which took the form of sharply cut jackets paired with culottes, all in Chanel's trademark tweed.
Lagerfeld's celebration of the unsung heroes of fashion, the petites mains who make every luxury house's creations possible, culminated when he took his final bow with his premieres (head seamstresses), who were visibly moved and proud to parade down a runway usually reserved for top models and the odd celebrity.
While some in the audience, perhaps reading too much into this moving gesture, interpreted it as an ominous sign that changes are afoot at the house, it was undeniably a beautiful homage to the behind-the-scene players on whose skills the world of haute couture relies to make magic happen.