Couture Report | The Day Before Dior
By Stephanie Lacava, Photographs by Greg Kessler
Through the entrance of the Christian Dior headquarters on Rue Francois, across from a black and white photo of Mr. Dior, sits the German model Kati Nescher, 28. It's the Sunday before the house's haute couture show. Nescher has just arrived for her fitting, and in a few moments she will be called upstairs to have her measurements taken; they must be absolutely precise. Once complete, the dress that she will wear in Monday's show will be returned to one of two ateliers in the building.
Just beyond the doorway of the first studio, called the atelier flou, is a muslin-covered bust wearing a floor length skirt with layers of red organza ruffles. This is the finale dress, and it's still without a bodice. In truth, none of the looks appear to be finished. In fact, they aren't. In the studio 50 people in white coats are working on the remaining embroidery, stitching and construction. Half of the sewers are interns from the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture, the school of the French Federation of Fashion and Ready-to-Wear. (Only a few will be offered long-term employment after years of apprenticeship. "We keep the best," says Catherine Riviere, the directrice of haute couture for Dior.) The other sewers are all experts; many came to Dior from houses that have closed in recent years. "There are only two real haute couture houses remaining," Ms. Riviere says. "Chanel and Dior." She worked at the former 15 years ago before arriving at her present position. Structured, stiff designs in materials often applied to men's suiting, and the use of faille or organza are what Ms. Riviere says distinguishes Dior from Chanel. It's in the second studio -- the atelier tailleur -- that these architectural pieces are made.
Like the atelier flou, the atelier tailleur is occupied by about 50 sewers, each working on a single look. There's a bust being fitted with a jacket that appears to be made of crocodile (each scale is actually an irregularly shaped cutout made of black ostrich skin that's been hand sewn onto organdy and tulle). This entire collection is red, purple, beige, black and white. X-ray is the theme -- image seams exposed and beading turned inside out beneath sheer fabrics (the house used black toile for the first time to simulate this effect). Is there a technique that's specific to each atelier? "There's no technique here," Ms. Riviere says, explaining that skills are, instead, unique to each artisan. For example, one person does embroidery, like the white cursive letters that spell out Mr. Dior's favorite sayings on a skirt; another creates pied de coq patterning, and so on.
It's worth noting that not one of the 40 dresses is finished and the show is in less than 24 hours. Still, the atmosphere is tranquil, cool, unruffled. "It's always calm. Everyone has to concentrate," says Ms. Riviere. "You cannot be excited when every stitch must be precise."
Of course, there will be people working through the night until, at last, the finished pieces are covered in white muslin cases and wheeled away from the atelier, a parade of ghosts with red or purple tulle trailing behind them.
Pictures via The New York Times, Facebook/Dior,