Each week, the Open Thread newsletter will offer a look from across The New York Times at the forces that shape the dress codes we share, with Vanessa Friedman as your personal shopper. The latest newsletter appears here. To receive it in your inbox, register here.
Greetings from Paris! I’ve been at the couture shows all week. For those who can’t keep track (most of us), couture is the made-for-one-person-by-hand part of fashion. It’s wildly expensive, and there are, rumor has it, only about 200 people in the world who buy it. Think of it as the polar opposite of fast fashion.
And though couture might seem completely irrelevant to most people, the venues — such as the Grand Palais and the Invalides — do demonstrate how seriously the French take it. For them, it’s a part of their patrimony, and needs to be preserved. For designers, meanwhile, it’s an opportunity to do things they could never do with machines. As for us? Well, it’s pretty jaw-dropping to watch.
I can get very cynical about these things (almost two decades of show-going will do that to a girl), and the bombast of the sets — Karl Lagerfeld recreating the Eiffel Tower inside the Grand Palais for his Chanel show, for example — tends to make me roll my eyes at the waste instead of gasp in delight.
But when you go backstage and feel a Valentino gown dripping in silver fringe that looks like it weighs about 10 pounds but discover that, in fact, it’s like a piece of tissue paper, it’s hard not to have your jaw drop in amazement.
You can read about that and more tales from the couture shows here, but in the meantime, I saw two other things that I highly recommend to anyone traveling to Paris in the next few months:
1. The Dior retrospective at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, an arm of the Louvre. This is the largest exhibit the museum has ever devoted to a single brand — it spans seven designers and 70 years — and it is historically fascinating as well as visually sumptuous, packed full of notable tidbits (Dior was a gallerist before he was a designer, but the war made him change his career plans) as well as extraordinary clothes.
2. The Maison Chloé, a new building that will house that brand’s archives as well as its museum, and which will be open to the public. Its first exhibit, up until September, features work from the past as well as a series of Guy Bourdin photographs from the ’70s and ’80s, all meant to raise the very good question: What does femininity mean?
If you have an answer, I’d like to hear it, but in the meantime, and for your reading pleasure, definitely catch up on the delicious and controversial tell-all from recently fired legendary British Vogue fashion director Lucinda Chambers, marvel at the stranger-than-fiction story of the French entrepreneur Ramdane Touhani and take a look back at the way tennis players have attempted to break the Wimbledon dress code. Have a good weekend!
Q: Hello! I am traveling to Paris this summer with my daughter in celebration of her 16th birthday. Is it truly terrible to wear leggings and skirts with sneakers? What do teenagers really wear in Paris!? And we both need to be comfortable and able to walk long distances — Miriam Baltierre, Long Island
A: It is not terrible at all to wear skirts — or dresses — with sneakers. In fact, it can be quite cool. I just saw a girl walking down the rue Cambon in a formal chiffon gown with Nikes and another young woman having café au lait at a sidewalk spot in a little cotton sundress, straw fedora and sneaks. Both looked terrific. Leggings together with sneakers, by contrast, make you look as though you are coming from the gym. Or as if you are a tourist who just got off the airplane. As the mother of two teenage girls who are absolutely convinced deep in their souls that leggings are pants, I know it’s hard to tell them otherwise, but it’s true. If you want to wear leggings, wear them with sandals or ballet flats instead. It’s all in the contrast; the deflating of formality via easy footwear, or the transformation of stretch into Audrey Hepburnesque style. — VANESSA FRIEDMAN