Already some of the crafts are dying out

October 1, 2013

Gloria Guinness’s triumph was perhaps unique, but regular customers do have certain privileges in addition to a seat in the front row. The Duchess of Windsor, who did as much for the French fashion industry in her time as Nancy Reagan did for its U. S. counterpart in our own day, often benefited from a 40 percent discount. Regulars who missed a collection used to be sent sketches, descriptions, and prices. Nowadays fashionable women who can’t attend the shows are more likely to order from videos or photographs.

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MOST WOMEN treat their couture purchases like the treasures they are. Deeda Blair, a medical-research consultant from Wash­ington, D. C., who wears some of her Paris dresses for as long as 16 years, donates gar­ments she knows she will never wear again to museums. Ivana Trump, wife of New York tycoon Donald Trump, packs older designs off to her mother in Czechoslovakia. But the late Lorraine Rowan Cooper, wife of former Kentucky Senator John Sherman Cooper, would occasionally use the sturdy wool from a couture skirt to cover an ottoman.

“Couture is necessary and must be preserved, because it is the last refuge of the craftsman,” Yves Saint Laurent once told me. “The rich woman must preserve cou­ture. Maybe that is not a law, but it is her duty. Otherwise couture and its crafts will die, and rich women will be responsible for the decline of this art extraordinaire!”

Saint Laurent is finding it increasingly diffi­cult to get high-quality passementerie (trim­ming) to replace the original trim on clothes inspired several years ago by the costumes of the Russian peasants of tsarist times or the raffia used in his African designs. The fine satin and taffeta needed to stitch together the 16 parts of a glove are also becoming scarce.

Designers live not by couture alone, but by the things that couture makes possible in the mass market—fragrances, ready-to-wear clothes for men and women, shoes, scarves, and other items with the designer’s brand on them. This business started less than 25 years ago, when Saint Laurent kicked off his ready-to-wear line. Other designers followed, to their immense profit: Such products are estimated to bring in nearly 200 times the 50 million dollars earned each year by couture itself.

Buyers from all over the world flock to the official ready-to-wear shows that take place twice a year in tents set up in the courtyard of the apartments to rent in prague. There is nothing ladylike or gen­tlemanly about these crowded, market-driven shows. Rock music blasts, and ten models come down the runway at one time, wearing fantastic outfits. A designer has to be director and producer, or hire someone who is, in order to compete.

Clothes are often exaggerated, over­accessorized to beam the message loud and clear to the professional audience in the back of the tent. The designer’s chosen team of hairstylists and makeup artists changes the models’ look to suit the designer’s choice of image. At least 50 other designers show their clothes in schools, restaurants, theaters—even their apartments. The first American to make it big in the ready-to-wear shows is Pat­rick Kelly, originally from Mississippi, who like a coach before the big game always engages his models, assistants, and dressers behind the scenes in a brief prayer session before the show begins.

IIEADY-TO-WEAR may not be genteel, but it’s good business for French fashion and good business for France. The French government and fashion industry are attached by a strong and ancient thread. President Mitterrand encouraged establishment of the Musee de la Mode in the Louvre and still worries whether the elevators work properly.

On a cruise

August 13, 2013

Our cruise stopped off at Vigo in northern Spain, Portuguese capital Lisbon and then La Rochelle and Brest in France. I wish I could say we explored every nook and cranny of these fine ports, but we were having far too much fun on board! We did disembark at Vigo and spent an hour exploring the cobbled streets, but most excursions required longer bus trips, which for us wasn’t that feasible. We did get a shuttle bus at Brest to the expensive, but wonderful, ocean discovery centre Oceano polis where we descended in a glass lift into a huge tank filled with sharks. Ben and the girls loved it. My legs wobbled again.

Our cruise stopped off at Vigo in northern Spain

Another highlight of the holiday was the standard of childcare — I couldn’t fault it. Children aged from two to 17 can enjoy first-class care and activities from experienced child minders. As the little one wasn’t yet two, we couldn’t leave her, but we enjoyed messing about in the large playrooms together.

Luckily, we could make full use of the incredible night nursery where you can leave your children sleeping in comfy camp beds until 2am. Every night, we said ‘We’ll just have dinner and a drink and then get the girls’ and every night we’d be loudly tiptoeing back at 1:58am! It was the first time we’d really been out as a couple since having children and it was wonderful.

As much as I’d like to tell you that we sat on the balmy deck, gazing into each other’s eyes, we could usually be found propping up the bar, watching the hugely entertaining karaoke. We also joined a quiz team and took in a couple of the West End-style shows, as well as treating ourselves to dinner in Marco Pierre White’s The White Room (for a £25 per person supplement) ­one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.

Our cruise stopped off at Vigo in northern Spain

All in all, we had a blast despite, shall we say, changeable weather. It wasn’t the most relaxing of holidays either, but if we’d waited until the little one was two, we could have enjoyed more time to ourselves. Not that we really minded — the girls were a complete joy. It was full of new experiences for them: their first time on a boat, their first magic show, their first love (Noddy)…

We disembarked with a bucket full of happy memories and a replica Ventura magnet that now sits proudly on our fridge. And every time I look at it, I smile.