This is adding credibility to my personal crusade trying to restore the flamboyant and often forsaken glorious days of the French prêt-à-porter from the 70’s. It is not the first time in this blog that I am driving a nail on this billboard. The billboard this time is the everlasting cover of the 1969 Beatles album ” Abbey Road”. John Lennon is leading the flock wearing a white suit and white shoes.
The suit is made in France by Ted Lapidus. I remember well Ted Lapidus’s flagship store on avenue Pierre 1er de Serbie in Paris in the 70’s. I happen to walk past it nearly everyday on my way back from school. The store was designed in metal and glass, an advanced concept for the time. It was shiny, Rock’n Roll and definitely new: suits for men and women alike. As Veronica Horwell writes in her obituary in the Guardian (Ted Lapidus died at age 79 exactly a year ago in the South of France) “Fashion had been emphatically re-gendered after the second world war, and Lapidus’s taste for androgyny was a fresh approach, at least outside the left bank.”Certainly John Lennon and the Beatles and their rivals the Stones were blurring the frontier between genders.
Well, the famous white suit just sold in a Connecticut auction on New Year’s Day for $46,000 according to the New York Times! Ted Lapidus was totally in tune with the avant-garde of his time and transformed the Carnaby street pollution into a scent. Today if the avant-garde is the facebook look. It is hard to see fashion there!
It is definitely the year of the prêt-à-porter, the French ready-to-wear! We have seen the revival of Thierry Mugler; Pierre Cardin had a show in New York a month ago, and today, in Paris, Minister of Culture Frederic Mitterrand bestowed the French Legion of Honor upon Mrs Carven and Paco Rabanne.
Vétiver de Carven … definitively a myth! … in my memory, it is a scent associated with the “rallyes” where-boys-meet-girls in the Parisian elite society, with a first kiss and masculine elegance.Paco Rabanne ! More memories : 1966, he created his first metallic dress.
My mother had one. I kept asking her, does it hurt? and she showed be the silky lining which seemed quite comfortable. Still I was fascinated and scared by the reflection of the metal each time she moved in the light. It became a game to see my face in the small squares like dozens of mirrors. It was fun, different and so glamorous even before the word existed. Yes, Paco is back! Interviewed in WWD, he talks about his wish to dress Lady Gaga (Remember Thierry Mugler has already signed up for the job!). Lady Gaga is now a rallying icon for all generations seeking rebellion, “la contestation”, lost in globalization. She is going to have my dream wardrobe, for sure!
Isabel Marant just opened a new store in New York on Broome Street and we cannot ignore it with all the buzz created around the opening! She is one of the latest brands of French prêt-à-porter to cross the Atlantique after Le Comptoir des Cotonniers, Zadig & Voltaire, Jerome Dreyffus and establish themselves for the most part in New York City and more precisely in Soho ..
They all have in common a certain sexy, laid back look that does not quite exist on this side of the Atlantic. Women certainly dress differently in France. I remember researching an article for Madame Figaro on ” The working women outfits”, interviewing powerful women from the president of the RATP, French equivalent of the MTA, to CAC40 executives. Most of them were quite interested in fashion having personal shopper to save time. Very conservative work environment forced them to wear non casual clothes, but none of them talked about the pressure of a uniform, the colorless, shapeless, -and should I say boring uniform – you see most commonly on the fast train to downtown during rush hours in New York. So yes, French prêt-à-porter may have a word to say.
Or rather had a word to say. A pessimistic view was whispered in my ear by iconic French fashion designer Irene Van Ryb (http://www.irenevanryb.com)who started her first collection in 1971, reigning on women’s pantalon and other attire. She was recently stranded in New York like thousands of fellow countrymen and we had time to exchange on French fashion. Irene has been a fashion insider during the heydays of French prêt-à-porter when Agnes B was still focusing on her cardigans bouton pression, when Thierry Mugler was empowering women with broad shoulders and eccentrically tiny waists, when Emmanuelle Kahn, hiding her eyes behind over sized glasses was equally and elegantly hiding women bodies behind robe chasuble. Dorothee Bis created by Jacqueline and Elie Jacobson and of course Pierre Cardin … French prêt-à-porter was home-made before manufacturing was outsourced, with a very singular style before the uniformity of globalization.
Where does French prêt-à-porter stand today?. According to the NYT ” What’s in the label say it in French” by Cintra Wilson (www.nytimes.com/2010/04/22/fashion), “French labels may aspire fashion consciousness but can they really create fashion”. Is it really worth its high-end price? was the concluding statement. It is a rather harsh comment that Isabel Marant will probably not like. For those who really like French prêt-à-porter and like myself have been collecting it over the years, it is the right question to be asked.
Isabel Marant store in NYC