Couture Inside Out

I’m fresh back from the ‘Couture Inside Out – 1950s Paris and London’ workshop at the London Fashion and Textile Museum.

Must blog straight away for fear of forgetting anything! After all I forgot notebook and pen in the first place!

First treat of the day was that I got to meet and enjoy this experience with Handmade Jane. It’s always so good to have like-minded people to raise your eyebrows at, make ‘ooo faces’ with, and give knowing looks to, during a lecture!

It was a very informal 2-hour affair with such amazing content divulged by the lovely Dennis. We donned our white cotton gloves and prepared to soak up all the info we could.

The first thing I learned (and remembered) was the definition of ‘haute couture’. (please spare me if I’ve got this wrong!) It is a term used to describe the highest level of hand-sewn, bespoke garments, in Paris by a delegated team of incredibly experienced seamstresses to strict regulations. Interestingly enough it was a term that was originally associated with the fine work of Charles Worth who was an Englishman.

Of course we have couture in the UK but with much more relaxed rules, apparently!

As the garments were presented, on a white covered table, the polite student audience jostled for position to get a better view and a feel and a photo.

First up was Dior. A gasp as the two Dior creations were revealed from under the tissue.

The fact that both were aged: faded, stained and torn, did not deter from the unanimous awe.

Both dresses were in two pieces which was intriguing. Nothing like a skirt and a top. So much clever scaffolding with fine underskirts attached to the bodices. No waist-stay required.

dior cream dress

Every little bit of both of these dresses were hand-stitched!! Including the tiny rolled hems on all the chiffon layers. Beggars belief!

Please excuse the fuzzy photos taken on a phone whilst being too polite to jostle too much!

dior embroidered dress

dior embroidered dress detail

Next up was a later Dior in a really heavy weight fabric. I will be looking at furnishing fabrics in a totally different light from now on. This was heavier than any curtaining I have ever felt.

It was laid out on the table, ready for inspection! A gorgeously shaped one-piece dress. Made for someone who clearly didn’t eat that much. The waist was super tiny. The seam allowances on the other hand were enormous. At least one and a half inches. All pressed open and hand finished. The fabric had a ridged, pin-tuck like texture. All the rows of which lined up perfectly on the side seams.

dior later dress

No lining, which was a surprise. Though the dress was underlined and interfaced.

dior dress inside

Chanel then graced the table with black contrast dress and two piece skirt suit. Both very classically Chanel.

Chanel black dress

The bling was upfront and out loud on this one but only took shape as a collar detail and chain weight in the hem on the set below.

chanel skirt suit

Chanel only incorporated details if they worked and if they were functional. The little ‘petal’ pockets sit at the hemline, precisely centred with the seams. The chain weights are typically seen in Chanel hemlines. She was obsessed with the way that fabric hung and remained throughout wear and this little trick became one of her many signatures.

chanel_hem_weight

Far removed from the finer details of Chanel but not to be sniffed at, is the work of Balenciaga. This Spanish master draped most of his designs and employed much fewer seams than other designers.

This coat was A blooming Mazing. My rubbishy i-phone photos do not do it any justice whatsoever. Firstly the colour. Secondly the texture of this fabric… OMG. It was hand created to get this incredible effect. And yet the design remained oh so simple. I can’t tell you how much I want this coat!

balenciaga green coat

I didn’t care too much for Balenciaga’s Sarong Dress. But you gotta take your hat off to someone who incorporates so much into the under-scaffolding of something that fundamentally looks like a sarong!

balenciaga sarong

Now, will I get shot for not having heard of Courréges? Probably. As these designs were pretty iconic!

courreges blue dress

Jane got right in there! Impressed by those perfectly bound buttonholes.

courreges coat

Dennis couldn’t be sure of the fabric that this Pierre Balman dress was made. It kind of felt like the sew in canvas that I recently used to interface my jacket! But it was gorgeous and necessary to keep that amazing shape. There were cutouts trimmed with velvet at the hemline and on the sleeves.

pierre balman dress

Of course it goes without saying that every detail counts. Balman even ensured that his labels were mitred.

Pierre Balman labels

The following is a really bad picture of the Ellie Saab dress that Halle Berry wore to the Oscars for Best Actress, The Monsters Ball. In stark contrast to the dresses that were 50/60 years older you can see no seam allowances, no underskirts and no hand stitches to speak of. It is undeniably a gorgeous dress and she looked amazing in it, but it is incredible how standards have changed over the years!

Ellie Saab dress

I cannot for the life of me remember who designed this dress but the fine pleating in the linen was unbelievable. An underlayer of shimmering copper gave a depth to the translucent linen and you could also see where the pleating was tacked.

(Thanks to the lovely Angela, I can now confirm it was Sybil Connolly!)

pleated linen dress

detail of pleat dress

Just when you thought you’d seen it all, something very little left me lost for words. If you look closely at all those painstakingly sewn on eyes, you will see that they are all oversewn with thread!

bound eyes

Now it would have been rude not to have mentioned Zandra Rhodes creations at this very museum. She is the founder, after all!

She entered the fashion world as a textile designer and the following two garments are testament to her designs. I’d never be able to carry these off in a million years but you have to admire her total originality in the way that she designed around the design of the fabric instead of sourcing suitable fabrics for a pre-determined design.

zandra Rhodes tunic

Here is her Knitted Circle dress. So called because the fabric design is made up of graphic knitting stitches. I swear there is more fabric in one of the sleeves than in the whole dress!

Zandra Rhodes circular knitted dress

knitted circle design

Both Jane and I left the workshop in a fuzzy reassured kinda way. It made us proud that we hand made our own clothes, albeit perhaps not to the same level of lavishness but there was nothing on show that we could not have handled. Give us a year or two for a deadline and we would gladly knock one up. But perhaps we might delegate the binding of the hook and eyes to someone else!

I did wonder whether I should have posted in so much detail so as not to spoil the experience for future visitors but really, you have to be there to actually see it. You have to feel and you have to hang onto every word that Dennis speaks because he knows everything there is to know!

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62 thoughts on “Couture Inside Out

  1. That cream fabric is called ottoman, and can have its little ridges closer together too and still be called ottoman. What an exciting treat!! I am ever So Envious, thank you for the photos too. I love all that hand done stuff and wish I had the time and budget to just indulge my OCD like that. it’s not something most of us real world sewists will ever achieve, unless maybe we become Couture Castaways on Scruffy Badger’s magic island – and then there’d be nowhere to wear them! 😉

  2. Detail is fantastic for those of us on the other side of the world with no imminent trips planned!! Thank you so much. I love how you got to get really up close and personal with the artworks (because lets face it, that is what they are) and were able to really study the construction. The learning experience must have been fabulous. Sigh. So envious.

  3. Oh Janene you put me to shame with all the detail you’ve managed to remember! It really was a wonderful experience, and a day to remember. I dreamt of couture dresses all night! Oh yes, the designer of that pleated black Irish linen dress was Sybil Connolly. x

    • It was fear of forgetting such loveliness and a determination to have a post to refer back to! I too had lovely dreams that night. Defo the secret of a good nights sleep. Must do more!! x

  4. What a fabulous post Janene and so interesting. Thank-you for sharing what must have been the best history lesson ever. I know I would have loved it and since I am not visiting London in the near future, you have made my day with this post. xxxxx

  5. Amazing stuff! I love poking about in old clothes, the attention to detail is staggering! Thanks for all the photos, looks like you two had a fabulous evening!

  6. You did so well to take photos with just your phone – and without elbowing anybody out of the way too! – thanks for sharing all those details. Fascinating!

  7. I have never heard of Courreges but that dress looked stunning…i love the pockets on the dress..I’m definitely copying that one..Thank you for making this post..!

  8. Thanks for sharing! What a treat to actually touch the garments and inspect that impeccable craftsmanship! It boggles the mind to think of how many hours went into some of those creations.

  9. I am so jealous! The Courreges dress is amazing, said to have invented the mini skirt, although it is debatable who did itbfirst him or Mary Quant!

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