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The Secret World of Haute Couture

February 21, 2011

Watching Fashion Week begs the question, who actually buys these clothes? And why aren’t I one of them? A BBC documentary, The Secret World of Haute Couture, attempts to answer these questions. Why is haute couture made, and why is it bought? We get an inside look into the exclusive club with access to the designers and buyers of the most elite brand of fashion. The filmmaker manages to snag some of the elusive designers for an interview, including Valentino, Karl Lagerfeld, and John Galliano. She also talks to a few women who are part of the  elite club of around 200 members who actually purchase the looks shown on the runway, or versions thereof that are custom-made to fit them perfectly. Now we can understand how they got access to the clothes in the first place (usually because they can be referred to as a Duchess or Baroness, or they have long-standing family connections), and why they would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a single garment of clothing. My favorite part of the hour-long film is about the last fifteen minutes or so, where the filmmaker tags along as they actually go shopping for these clothes after the haute couture shows in Paris. Other highlights are fleeting moments, like watching Lagerfeld sketch, seeing an old clip of Dior showing off a leopard-skin dress, the brief uncredited appearance of the late, great Isabella Blow, or seeing the hand-drawn sketches of new looks with fabric samples attached that Dior sent over to Betty Bloomingdale (wife of The Bloomingdale, of Bloomingdale’s). But the documentary is filled with juicy tidbits of a world that is kept so much under wraps. In fact, one of the most intriguing parts of the film is realizing just how secretive this particular society is. Divulging clients’ names is a major faux pas for haute couture designers, and the vast majority of “the club” refuse to make themselves known. (The filmmaker shares over and over again how little access she was ever granted, and how few women were willing to appear on camera. Even the few that agreed to be interviewed were tight-lipped about just how many outfits they owned, or wouldn’t allow her to film their full collections, among many other setbacks.) You would think that if you’d be able to afford a collection of haute couture that you’d be screaming the fact from the rooftops.

All in all, The Secret World is a must-see for anyone remotely interested in the fashion industry or high society. It’s nice and juicy, and the rare peeks at the clothes and their construction will make your heart flutter. You can find it on Youtube, or for a slightly better quality version, watch it here.

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