Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Evolution of an Haute Couture Collection - Part 2

Once the muslins were made, they would be presented to Galliano on the models. We would hear loud music blasting from the front area of the design studio where John would be seated with his assistants, Bill and Steven, and models would be prancing back and forth, sometimes with stockings on their heads. Notes were taken, Polaroids were shot, and sketches were drawn. The muslins would be taken to the ateliers where they would be used to make the show samples. The pieces were extremely heavy, with lots of crinoline and tulle to create the volume that Galliano is known for, and it would be tricky to carry the pieces from the design studio to the atelier. (The Dior mansion which headquarters the company is massive).

At the same time, the assistant designers were tending to the rest of the ship, such as this lingerie/swimwear fitting:

One great thing about interning at Dior is that they had the means to employ the top people in their fields. So I found myself fetching shoe polish and spray paint for Stephen Jones, who makes many of the hats and head pieces for the Dior shows. One time I was sent to get hairspray and I saw Stephen Jones and Orlando Pita chatting on the couch by the reception area. A week or so before the show, Pat McGrath waltzed around with her crew, doing makeup tests with models. There were models made up to look like they were sweaty from dancing. She had a rich voice and a thick British accent and was very friendly when she came over with Polaroids of the models to be photocopied.

Around this time we'd see tons of models around the studio for casting. Many were young, very skinny Eastern European girls. We did meet an American girl though, named Valery Prince, who was very friendly. We'd hear loud music blasting from the front area where Galliano and his team would watch the girls walk. The music was a blend of Coldplay, Beyonce, dance music, and tap and flamenco rhythms, which would become the show soundtrack.

As the show approached, things in the studio became more and more hectic. Lots of unfamiliar people came and went. We even caught a glimpse of Monsieur Arnault (chairman of Dior and LVMH) and Monseiur Toledano (Dior's CEO). There was a photographer snapping pictures in the studio, for what I think would be a documentary. There would be music blaring to keep people pepped up, and we were sent to and from the ateliers. Anticipation mounted for the show.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Apologies for not updating as frequently as I would like. Things have been a little tough lately, as you might have guessed from my posts. I've been struggling with anxiety and depression as well as little snags here and there. However, I'm feeling better. I will be selling at the Young Designer's Market today and hopefully I will get around to updating my blog soon.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Van Gogh

My favorite painter is Van Gogh. At some point after he decided to pursue his career as a painter he became estranged from his parents (along with many other people in his life). His brother Theo remained his loyal and staunch supporter until the end, giving him financial support even when he failed to sell more than a couple of paintings before he died (now they're worth millions). I told my brother long ago that he would be my Theo.

Sometimes when I get into a fight with my parents about my career choice, I remind myself of Van Gogh.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Evolution of an Haute Couture Collection - Part 1

Rather than reproduce the journal entries I wrote while I was interning at Dior, I will instead reconstruct events based on those entries as well as realizations I came to afterward. Although I aim to be as accurate as possible, there may be slight inaccuracies or things I don't remember. I will do my best.

The haute couture collection was developed in a surprisingly short period of time (about a month), given the intricacy and number of garments (there were 49). It started with Galliano deciding on a theme, which for that particular season, was the dance. All different styles were drawn upon for inspiration, ranging from flamenco to ballet to reggae.

Here are some photos of the inspiration boards.

The reason why it is possible for a house like Dior to produce an haute couture collection in such a brief amount of time (while simultaneously continuing work on its pret-a-porter and accessories lines) is because it has a very organized and well-developed infrastructure. At the time there was Galliano with his two head assistant designers -- Steven Robinson (who passed away not too long ago) and Bill (I forget his last name). According to one of the interns, Steven was more involved in the artistry and Bill was involved with the technical aspects.

Below them was a host of designers in specialized areas, plus a studio manager who coordinated everything and the production staff who kept track of the design process in order to be able to coordinate production in the future.

Each designer had a specialized function. In French there are more specific descriptions of fashion designers than in English. There is the term "createur," which has subtle connotations of being the person with the ideas or concept. Then there is the term "modeliste" which describes a designer who makes prototypes, or "toiles" as they are described in French, by draping them out of muslin on the mannequin, more like a sculptor. Then there is the term "styliste" which describes a designer who designs by sketching on paper.

In this case Galliano would fit the "createur" role, since he was the mastermind behind the collection, and directed his assistants with his vision. I have heard a comparison between fashion designers and film directors, which makes sense to me after witnessing both processes. At some point, both have had experience with many, if not all, aspects of the creative process, but ultimately they direct other people to execute the vision that they have.

There were a few "modelistes" in the studio, one Korean girl who had studied at the Chambre Syndicale and two from northern Europe (I forget where exactly, maybe Norway or Sweden?) who had studied in their countries of origin. They were given directives from Galliano or his head assistants but told me that instead of being assigned specific shapes they had freedom to experiment, and Galliano served as a "third eye" to yea or nay what they came up with, guiding them.

Here is one of them, hard at work. You can see how sculptural the process is, as Galliano's style tends to involve an intricate three-dimensionality.

Then there were a couple of "stylistes" who worked to adapt the couture designs to more wearable options for clients and celebrities who were comped with free clothes. They would also attend fittings so that they were aware of the details of the garments and/or perhaps document them for organization purposes. There was one girl who was there full-time, having recently graduated from St Martins (a large number of the designers were St Martins grads, as was Galliano). Another was freelance and had previously worked at Valentino. Both were elegant and beautiful Italian women.

There was also a textile designer, who had also graduated from St Martins. For some reason, they didn't really use computers or the internet much at the studio, so most of her design work was accomplished through the use of physically cutting and pasting with photocopies, with the help of us interns.

There was also a knits designer, who knitted leg warmers, leggings, and a rasta beanie for the show (among other responsibilities).

There were several other designers, including accessories designers and designers for the pret-a-porter collections (who were still involved in the couture collection as they would later adapt certain ideas for pret-a-porter), and some freelance designers as well. There were so many with all different functions that it was difficult to keep track of who did what. Somehow they all worked together to fulfill Galliano's vision.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Internship at Christian Dior -- Introduction

Julian's friend was a contributing editor at Vogue at the time, and had suggested through Julian that I keep a diary of my internship there, for possible inclusion in the magazine. That didn't happen, but I'm glad I kept a record of my internship.

Much of my experience involved just trying to figure out what was happening. There were several reasons for my confusion. First of all, I had not yet had any formal training in fashion aside from my very brief experience at Marc Jacobs, which, in comparison to Dior, was still a small enterprise. Secondly, my French was lacking and while Galliano, his head assistants, and several of the other assistant designers were British or at least English-speaking, much of the design studio and other employees as well as interns with whom I interacted on a daily basis were either French of spoke French more fluently than English. Thirdly, Dior is a massive organization. I was there to assist with the haute couture collection, but at the same time there were people working on the pret-a-porter, accessories, and lingerie collections. To further complicate things, Galliano had his own design studio for his eponymous label in the 20th arrondissement, whose designers and interns also came to help out in the Dior studio. There were so many things going on at the same time that it was hard to keep track and really follow everything.

When I started my internship on June 10th, there were already three other interns, all French. Another joined a week or so later. Three had gotten their internships through some sort of connection (like me), but one had gotten her internship through her own merit, having just finished her schooling at the Chambre Syndicale. Her name was Karin and she was very friendly. She had been there for a few months and helped me to piece together what was happening.

At the time, John Galliano was one of my favorite designers (I still respect him but right now my favorite designers are probably Nicolas Ghesquiere and Christopher Kane). So for me, seeing him was like seeing a rock star. We would see him from time to time and he was very friendly. I vividly remember him in a pink tank, pink bandana, and hair in two braids like a schoolgirl. I got to speak to him on a couple of occasions, once when I was organizing books for him and another time when I went down in the tiny elevator with him (there was a regular sized elevator and there was a small two-person sized elevator). This is the conversation we had:

me: I just wanted to say, I want to be like you when I grow up!
JG: (laughs) You will! (we get off the elevator) See you later!

Right. One of the best assignments I was given involved hopping in a sleek black BMW to drive to Galliano's beautiful residence in the Marais. I walked inside the front foyer, almost attacked by a tiny barking (but harmless) dog, and dropped off the show soundtrack for him. However, most of the assignments were standard intern bitchwork: making (lots of) photocopies, which was necessary for keeping everyone in the studio and production staff on the same page (literally), fetching McDonalds/coffee/shoe polish/thongs/fabric swatches/wifebeaters/spray paint/anything and everything, ironing fabric tape, dyeing said fabric tape, cutting out patterns and pieces of fabric, sewing/embroidering small things, etc.

I leave you with this image:

My Second Trip to Paris

After completing my junior year of college, I headed to Paris in June of 2003. Exhausted after my flight, once aboard the airport bus from Charles de Gaulle to the Arc de Triomphe, I fell asleep, foolishly leaving the Louis Vuitton wallet I had purchased that spring on the seat next to me. When I got off the bus, I got that sinking feeling that came with the realization that someone had stolen it.

Despite the rough start (a stranger kindly gave me a Metro ticket, without which I wouldn't have made it to my destination since all my cash and cards were in that wallet) and the several sketchy men I managed to encounter during my stay in Paris (French men can be very aggressive in a creepy way), the city did not fail to charm me.

My foyer (pictured below) was located on the beautiful Ile Saint Louis (basically, the other island in the middle of the Seine, at the city center, which connects to Ile de la Cite, where the Notre Dame cathedral is situated).
Walking across the Seine every day was surreal. I didn't get my first iPod until after college, and at the time I was still using my MiniDisc player. My soundtrack for that summer was Jimmy Eat World's "Clarity" album, and hearing songs from that album still reminds me of that summer in Paris.