THE FRENCH CONNECTION
By Harlan Yaffe,
Fashion Editor, Todo Ahora
January 20, 2003

Thankfully, we no longer live in a world where one scratch of a designer's pen instantly relegates your entire wardrobe into obscurity.  This is not to say that fashion does not continuously evolve; styles can become passé quicker than you can say Chanel Nº 5.  The global marketplace offers us such a plethora of clothing options that there is no longer "one" ultimate look or style, but several.  But how is it that Simon Foster, in Barcelona, can be showcasing very similar colors and silhouettes to what Linda Allard is showing for Ellen Tracy 6000 miles away in New York?  How is it that almost identical styles in a fancy, urban department store arrive a year later at a cut-rate country boutique? Designers, despite being vastly dispersed culturally and geographically, do seem to reach a consensus each season and definite trends clearly emerge. You might think they all glean inspiration from a singular oracle of style, but the truth is, they have another connection that serves as fashion's muse: a French connection.

Since the gilded opulence of the court of Louis XIV, France has reigned as the barometer for world fashion.  Established in 19th century Paris, the emergence of haute couture cemented French fashion supremacy.  While the influence of other cities on the fashions we wear can not be denied (even Italy's Valentino holds his couture show in Paris), all facets of the apparel industry: fabric, trim, accessories, and especially the designers themselves, follow the stylish lead of French couturiers and their trend setting clientele. As certain trends mature and continue from one season to the next, this information is processed, distilled, & reworked for the mass markets. A year or two may pass before the influence of these trends visibly impacts the garments you find in your local store.

One of most fascinating aspects of the couturier is his/her existence in a perpetual state of observation. The couturier is eternally monitoring life and events throughout the world. This is imperative to prevent being swept along with the (heaven forbid) bourgeois flow and left stranded on the shore of obsolescence. From the "new look" to mini skirts, evening gowns to trousers, stiletto heels to flat casuals; from Worth to Chanel, Dior to Saint-Laurent, Courrèges to Christian La Croix: haute couture has chronicled all of the vibrations of the century. The poverty of wars, the nostalgia for periods of prosperity, the discovery of space, new materials, and the general appetite for freedom in all aspects of life is mirrored back to the world on the hallowed catwalks of the couture salon.

Ok, I am getting a little esoteric here; after all, we are just talking about fashion, not the cure for cancer. So back to the matter at hand: how do five and six figure haute couture creations directly impact single digit garments that hang in the discount store? 

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