One of the things I wanted to do while I live in Europe is attend and sketch at a Haute Couture week in Paris. Last week, I ticked that box… sort of. One of the things I’ve discovered about traveling is that your intended destination is ever-elusive. You can never reach where you’re going because no place is ever what you expect it to be. Even though every journey teaches you lessons, they are almost never in the subjects you thought you signed up for.
Anyway, I wasn’t that optimistic about my ability to attend any shows on my own modest merits. I put in my requests to every single show on the calendar, and when I picked up my mail in Paris I was surprised to open four invitations, three of which I was able to attend. None of the invitations were for designers I recognized.
There are so few haute couturiers, it seems a bit strange that some of them are wholly unknown outside of Paris. But what I was about to discover is that there is no correlation between official accreditation by the Syndicale and great fashion design. That “Haute Couture” can be every bit as provincial and uninspiring as any other fashion week – maybe even more so because the expectations are expanded by half a century of hype. I sketched at three shows, and none of my sketches turned out any good at all. What I saw either failed to ignite my imagination or offended my sense of taste. I didn’t even feel like sketching what I saw.
I sat outside of the Chanel Haute Couture show to watch the crowd, and it was a street-style circus as expected. The only difference from any other big fashion show was that sometimes a car would pull up, and photographers would cluster around it until an old woman – a couture customer – emerged from the car and everyone would just turn away.
This time, Paris turned out to be more about seeing friends, attending exhibits, and just thinking, than it did about fashion and drawing.
Once I got back to the office in London, I checked out the major shows on the internet, and sketched the above looks from from the Christian Dior and Chanel videos on my knee, just like I would if I was actually there. After a few tries I managed to get some decent sketches, even though I found both shows to be extremely conservative.
It makes me think that perhaps my reasons for attending fashion weeks are no longer valid. I have now been to fashion weeks in every major fashion city, including menswear and couture. I’ve learned a lot that I didn’t know before, seen how the glamour sausage gets filled, and even got to see a few outstanding shows, but after over five years of this I’ve found attendance is delivering diminishing returns… the more I see, the less any single experience stands out.
While I try to justify my purpose for existing at a fashion week by producing the best work I can, it really doesn’t seem to matter. Fashion shows are about fame and attention – they are for celebrities and pretty young things. Fashion shows are only incidentally about art, creativity, or even fashion. So it follows that very few people are interested in sketches executed at fashion shows.