There’s nothing, I repeat nothing more frightening than being interviewed by somebody and getting asked a question you simply cannot answer. For some reason, it always seems to happen to me in Paris. Outside Louis Vuitton at the menswear shows in January, a French reporter interviewed me for the six o’clock news about ‘Le Dondee Steeeeel’. What exactly ‘Le Dondee Steeeel’ was, I had no idea – it took me a good three questions in to realise he was saying ‘ The Dandy Style’. I managed to fudge my way through for a minute or so until he threw me this bomb: “And what hees le origin of Le Dondee Steeeel?” Six months on I still don’t think I know. Well it happened to me again today outside Christian Dior Couture. The vivacious Canadian Jeanne Beker – face of Fashion Television and judge on Canada’s Next Top Model, heard me speaking English, threw a camera in my face and asked, “So what do you think is the significance of Galliano bringing Dior Couture back to Avenue Montaigne? Especially with this pared back collection. Sign of the times? Or is he making a greater statement about fashion – and the Dior house – in particular?”
First show of the day was Alexis Mabille. I was determined to get there on time. I woke a little late but got ready quickly and was dressed and halfway out the door when I realised I’d forgotten to shave. One can’t turn up to the first Haute Couture show of the season looking like a patchy bearded teenager. I ran back inside and set to work, speed shaving but being careful not to cut myself. I was three quarters of the way through when the water stopped. I tried another tap – nothing. I ran all around the house turning on every water faucet I could find – even the fridge water dispenser. Nothing. The house was dry. I had soap all over my face and the show was scheduled to start in seven minutes. I went to the freezer and plunged my face into the ice box. It burned, but desperate situations call for desperate measures.
A little red in the face, I made it down to the street and sprinted to the taxi stand, hopping into the first one I could find. “14 rue Royale – vite vite vite!” The driver turned around and smiled. “Non non non,” he said to me, “today we go slow.” I’d chosen the only hippie taxi driver in Paris.
Alexis Mabille was basically a write-off. I arrived just before the finale and had to stand behind fifteen people. I could see the models’ faces perfectly – so I can tell you that Australian Skye Stracke walked – but besides an odd shoulder here and there the clothes were beyond my view. I skipped the second show to give myself plenty of time to make it over to Christophe Josse. I arrived before everybody else and went backstage, Twitpic-ed for a bit, then went back out onto the catwalk to find a seat. A front rower was sitting empty so I grabbed it. The show began.
I never knew I could get so excited by pretty girls in pretty dresses – I came into fashion because I love menswear. But the show was magical. Haute Couture is like being swept away to a world where everything is flawlessly perfect for just 10 minutes. It starts with gentle music, then a model – an enchanting model – slowly walks the room. Then more models – each one wearing a dress more beautiful than the last, until finally the bride walks out. The crowd claps appreciatively then files out in an orderly fashion, each person smiling their own little smile. If an ordinary fashion show is the equivalent of a rock concert, Haute Couture is an intimate symphony performance. It’s not about sex, it’s not about cool, it’s about selling a dream of utter sophistication and glamour. Nice if you can afford it.
Next up was Christian Dior. The one show I just can’t break. I arrived, tried my luck on the door, no dice. I even pulled out the stolen Blackberry story, still nothing. It wasn’t to be. Ah well, I figured I could stay out front and catch some shots of the celebs as they came in. If they came in. The paps and I waited and waited through a few minor French actresses here and there, former first lady of Frances Mrs Jacques Chirac, Suzy Menkes and Olivier Zahm (two of my personal favourites), but nobody huge arrived. Finally a black Mercedes pulled up. Out stepped Marion Cotillard – movie star and current face of Christian Dior. The paps went mental.
When the Marion-madness had died down, Steve motioned for me to follow him. We walked around the building, past the security at the backstage door and turned into a small industrial looking hallway. It was the courier entrance. We made our way very slowly and very cautiously past the mail room and through an unmarked door and ended up in a mirror-lined hallway filled with security. None of them said a thing. We kept on going until we reached a mini foyer. Two security guards looked at us and asked where we were going. “Backstage,” we replied. One of them walked us over to the elevator, pressed the button to level three and bid us bon voyage. We ascended, the doors opened and we found ourselves in another mini foyer with another two security guards. They looked at us for a while but didn’t say anything. We dropped our bags and sat around for a moment.
Then the girls started walking by. Not just any old girls, the top girls. Magdalena Frackowiak, Tanya Dziahileva, Natasha Poly, Chanel, Siri Tollerod, it was like a who’s who of the models.com top 50. Tanya D recognised Steve, came over and gave him a big hug and posed for some shots. It’s always funny seeing someone in real life who you’ve only ever seen pictures of – especially models. I could be wrong, but Miss Dziahileva looked at least six foot one and she wasn’t even wearing heels. She was a giant! A beautiful giant. The makeup – white faces with big exaggerated eyes only served to heighten her larger than life quality. A minute later Magdalena Frackowiak came and stood by the window for some fresh air, and leant out to smoke a cigarette. I tapped her on the shoulder and asked if I could take a photo. She consented, so I pulled out the Blackberry, leant out the window and snapped one shot. It was all too good to be true. Sure enough, the next moment a very polite French PR agent asked for our backstage passes. She knew Steve and apologised – backstage was very tight this season – there was no way around it.
My 100% Dior failure rate still stands, though I can sort of claim something for having made it into the building. Tomorrow’s a big day – Armani Prive, Givenchy, Christian Lacroix and Chanel. Hopefully this time then I’ll be writing a little something about having met Karl Lagerfeld. Wish me luck!
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