There was barely room to exhale at Caviar Kaspia, a restaurant in Paris where baked potatoes cost 1000 euros and were filled with 80 grams of Beluga caviar last Monday night. It was the first day of Paris Couture week and the chairs magically appeared for last-minute guests who passed around tightly packed tables full of crystal glasses and china for a post-show dinner.
A few boulevards away, on the Avenue de l’Opera, it was clear that the European economy was very successful: empty shops and sleeping bags in the doorways. But inside this plushly upholstered cocoon, as one caustic diner said, “what financial crisis?”
Couture week used to be an intimate affair – a small salon presentation before fashion weeks, which mostly took place in front of about 100 or so women. These women – aristocrats, wives of South American dictators (who received a full education on etiquette, interior decoration and style from the designers), often a celebrity or two – paid handsomely for the clothes they ordered, and the story.
Today, as the Renoir-esque, jewel-bedecked, taffeta crowd at Caviar Kaspia shows, it’s a far more glitzy affair – and a glimpse into the glitzy, extremely secretive world of film directors, influencers and oligarchs.
Among the celebrities, a contingent of glossy magazine editors and social media stars filming every blob of caviar for their Instagrams and TikToks were their actual clients (the ones who pay for their clothes.)
But most of those present were not what the fashion houses would call clients. French dancer, singer and actress Josephine Baker, who inspired Dior’s languid show last week, paid for her 1950s Dior as a badge of pride. Today’s phalanxes of A-listers do not pay, as a badge of pride as well.
Instead, they are paid. And in the last year, “since the pandemic, strangely”, a fashion house insider told me, “their fees have become obscene, to show up and get dressed. Couture shows pay more than the ready to wear. “A celebrity with a good agent can get between £50-100,000 to sit front row. They are also flown in and put up at the Ritz or The Crillon.”
There will be more money if A-lister posts about it on social media, which made couture, once a secret, elite life (although short, highly choreographed clips were released on Pathe News, with voices from men) with seen immediately. for everyone in real time.
Were Baz Luhrmann and his costume designer wife Catherine Martin doing the front sets for inspiration, or to get funding for their next film venture?
Julianne Moore once told me that some of the most critically acclaimed indie films have such tiny budgets that they can be made by collaborating with fashion brands. At the Oscars, the current asking rate for women to wear a dress on the red carpet is $200,000-$300,000, $70,000-$100,000 for men. No wonder actresses wear two outfits of different brands on the night.
Did the rapper Grammy Winner Doja Cat, who spent four hours with the supreme make-up artist Pat McGrath her body painted red and splattered with rhinestones, watered her bank account by attending the Schiaparelli show together with Kylie Jenner, model, entrepreneur and part of the Kardashian Clan, who sat front row in a dress decorated with a giant lion head?
Not likely. While the likes of Dior (whose front row celebrities included Elizabeth Debicki, Kirsten Dunst, Rosamund Pike and Bianca Jagger); Valentino (Anne Hathaway); Chanel (Marianne Cotillard, Tilda Swinton) and Armani (Michelle Yeoh) make millions of euros from couture clothes, Schiaparelli is an elite with small budgets.
To combat it, Schiaparelli’s current designer, Daniel Roseberry, has developed a talent for guerrilla tactics. Last week, they paid off handsomely. His (fake) stuffed animals have inspired outrage (Carrie Johnson), admiration (Peta) and screams of disgust (certain celebrities who said they wouldn’t wear Schiaparelli). All joyous publicity opportunities.
So who is buying the clothes? Because make no mistake, money is changing hands – for both clothes and jewellery, shown separately in personal presentations slotted between the catwalk shows. The people who hand it over are from all over the place, although addresses can be a bit vague, with their multiple homes, impounded jets and yachts that have been changed to other names.
The Chinese are not traveling yet. Russians reserve the right to identify themselves as anything but. But while clients may not be seen in person (stories of the world’s toils have flowed even the walls of their fortress, making stylists in $300,00 sewn lace and matching caps not look very good). with them. Of course there is a hierarchy of stylists as there is a hierarchy of everything in couture, including potatoes and caviar.
At Dior’s high jewelery show, in some cases more than half of the jewels were booked by the second day – at prices running into the millions. There are more stones. De Beers had a ten carat diamond. Cindy Chao, a jewelery designer from Taiwan, imagined a pair of 11cm pod pea earrings (evening bag length) with two huge cabochon emeralds and sold one of them immediately – to a man who would show, rather than wear. it’s on his desk. A sense of scarcity is key. At Cartier they are not only using incredible stones but dinosaur bones – smothered in diamonds sculpted into a panther head.
You couldn’t make it up. Then again, during last week’s couture week, you didn’t have to.