A couple days after moving to Paris, I started my classes at l'Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. The Chambre Syndicale sets the rules for haute couture, and runs the school as well. As our teachers liked to remind us, it's the only school in the world devoted specifically to haute couture, although now they teach ready-to-wear techniques. Initially, I had only planned to take classes there for a few months. Therefore, I enrolled in the Formation Continue, a program designed for professionals with experience in the fashion industry. I enrolled in the patronage (patternmaking), moulage (draping), and dessin (drawing) "stages." However, the drawing course was cancelled due to a lack of students. The classes were 9 to 6 with a one hour "pause" for lunch, and a couple of 15 minute breaks during the day. The draping class was three days a week and the patternmaking was one day a week.
Our draping teacher, Mme. Saget, had worked at a few different couture houses before beginning to teach at the Chambre Syndicale, including Yves Saint Laurent and Courreges. She was very Parisian, which I learned was different from other French people. They are more reserved and proper. We each had a mannequin and she gave us yardages of muslin. She would do a demonstration and then we would work on our own mannequin and try to do the same. She walked around and corrected things that were wrong.
The class was very difficult for me. Unlike most of the others, who were older than me and had had more experience in fashion, I was pretty clueless about draping. Also, the classes were held in French. Although I had taken French all through middle and high school, and had taken a conversational French class in college, understanding what was happening was tough. Firstly, everyone spoke much more quickly than I was used to understanding. Secondly, there was a lot of technical language that I had never learned in my French classes, like "poitrine" (bust) or "taille" (waist). The first few weeks were especially rough. I finally sympathized with my parents, trying to survive in a foreign country, barely speaking the language. I relied on the charity of my classmates, who would glance over at me looking frustrated or confused, and would try to explain to me what was happening.
I was also frustrated with the teacher, who seemed indifferent to my struggles. However, I eventually realized that her style of teaching was different from what I was used to. Although I expected my teacher to come rescue me when I was struggling, she would not approach me until I asked for help. Once I figured this out, things became easier and she was very kind and helpful. The rest of the class found me amusing because I would ask her random questions about her experiences and sometimes more personal things as well.
Draping is a difficult skill, and it's a type of sculpture. We were given sketches and then expected to interpret the sketch. You work with the muslin, cutting it and pinning it to shape it. As much as possible, you want to keep the grainlines running parallel to the "droit fils" or straight lines that demarcate the body from head to toe, so that the fabric drapes nicely. There are many rules to be learned, which differ based on different fabric details, like seam placement and sleeve shapes.