Photography: Irma Refashion Gallery
Haute Couture was developed in the 19th Century in France in order to protect Paris’s status as the world’s main fashion capital. Chambre Syndicale De La Haute Couture still governs what qualifies as Haute Couture or not and the rules are simple – for a fashion house to qualify it must design made-to-order garments for private clients, it should maintain a shop in Paris with at least 15 employees full time, and show two collection in Paris, one in January and one in July. However, The 1950s will always be remembered by fashionistas as the last decade of Haute Couture before it began to falter – a state of affairs from which it has never fully recovered as never again since then have been so many independent couturiers. Their extraordinary ideas had an unprecedented worldwide impact on mass fashion and woke old ideas but with a New Look. The fashion world was on a verge of a radical change as women now yearned for soft lines and extravagantly full skirts, tired of clothes being austere and in short supply during wartime. After the horrors of WWII, women wanted to be pampered and protected without having to shoulder responsibility for anything. Meanwhile, the New Look symbolized optimism and opulence and with the Marshall Plan being introduced in 1947 they could now afford the clothes and lifestyle that they aspired to have. The society ladies of the era coordinated their appearance from head to toe and embarked on an unstoppable quest for beauty. Thanks to the economic miracle even ordinary mortals could aspire to the lifestyle of Hollywood movie idols like Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Rita Hayworth or Audrey Hepburn. The hourglass silhouette, a hallmark of the New Look was echoed in every aspect of life, from architecture to interior design and what Christian Dior managed to achieve with the creation of the New Look surpassed what he has ever imagined. What he had done was tapping into the prevailing mood of the 1950s, a mood not confined to a single country or social class and sensing people’s desire for things to return to how they used to be. They wanted clearly defined gender roles but with everyone having a share in the good life. Thus, after standing their ground all through war, women wanted to go back to feeling completely feminine which led to the return of the corset. Not only that, but they were expected to change their outfits up to six times a day, altering their accessories, makeup and hairstyle accordingly, becoming advertisements for their husband’s wealth and success. In the years to come, everything was possible – girls from the lowliest of backgrounds became stars or models and married the most powerful and wealthy men in the world like Balmain’s star model, Bronwen Pugh, who married Lord Astor. The world of haute couture was decidedly shocked when the epitome of glamour and style in the 50’s, Pierre Balmain, chose her as his muse, describing her as one of the five most beautiful women he had ever met. The aristocracy were drawn to Balmain’s luxurious elegance, extravagant fullness, soft colors, intricate embroidery and fur. His “Jolie Madame” style proposed conservative and elegant garments and the Balmain’s blue blazer that I am wearing today signifies exactly that. His aesthetic eye for the “new French style,” matched up with his perpetual quest for modernity is still evident in Balmain’s collections, now under the rule of Olivier Rousteing. The French designer is consistently inspired by the strength of women, and aims to empower them with his bold designs. He is also a strong advocate for diversity within the fashion industry and is an inspiration to a number of aspiring designers, who, until recently, lacked a successful mixed-race role model.
Photography: Irma Refashion Gallery