CULTURE

Greek designers lament the end of haute couture

The last, triumphant, almost wholly retrospective collection that the haute couture house of Yves Saint Laurent staged on Tuesday night at the Pompidou Center in Paris plunged France into national mourning, and sounded a global fashion warning. It also offered a moment for thought for fashion professionals all over the world, nearly all of whom have been hugely inspired by the great French maitre. Greek designers and fashion folk are no exception. «I owe my career in fashion a little bit to Yves Saint Laurent. When I was young, looking at his clothes, which were so beautiful, ultimately inspired me to get into the business,» said Penelope Zagoras, adding that her first YSL outfit remains a much-treasured garment. For the Cretan-born, Paris-bred fashion designer (who recently returned to Greece to establish a local fashion house), Saint Laurent’s departure signals the death of a prominent part of couture. Furthermore, she added, besides the talented designer, fewer skilled hands remain in the field. «Fashion is a dream and couture goes beyond time,» said Zagoras. «If we don’t have a dream to offer, a gorgeous chiffon dress, for instance, we won’t sell so many perfumes. First of all, you offer the dream. Without the beauty of the couture, those investing in fashion will ultimately lose money, and only then will they do something about bringing it back.» As the fashion industry becomes increasingly led by a selective few, multibrand luxury giants, great masters such as Saint Laurent fade away while their successors – in this case Tom Ford who is in charge of Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche ready-to-wear collections but who will not develop a couture line – grow into multifaceted stylists. «I believe that they will have his name written in bright colors on the Champs Elysees,» said flamboyant fashion specialist Lakis Gavalas of the Saint Laurent exit. Gavalas, who sells YSL Rive Gauche collections at his Greek outlets, is currently watching how Ford’s design team is focusing on capitalizing the brand’s power to sell more accessories; at the same time, Gavalas sees designers such as Jean-Paul Gaultier and Christian Lacroix keeping the haute couture flame alive. «Personally, I would say, hold on, Karl Lagerfeld,» said Yiannis Tseklenis, of the authoritative German designer in charge of Chanel. Tseklenis, himself a successful fashion maverick whose licensing agreements made his products available in more than 20 countries back in the 1970s, took a long look at an industry increasingly controlled by glorified stylists. «Saint Laurent was one of the greatest poets, with a huge adoration for women. But we are now living in a different era,» he said, adding that he regretted that in this country there has never been any original haute couture, though designers such as Jean Desses, born to Greek parents in Alexandria, were leading players in Parisian couture in the 1950s. «In Greece, fashion does not have enough personality to attract a flow of capital,» said Costas Faliakos from his new atelier on Levendi Street. One of the very few haute couture local players, the designer started ready-to-wear collections only six months ago. His work on sur mesure garments, however, continues. «The great limitations of ready-to-wear in terms of production is that clothes are massively produced, they have to go through a machine. They lack the dream of couture, which is what directs fashion. Especially after the departure of Saint Laurent, we need a new look, a nouveau chic; aesthetics have to go back to basics,» said Faliakos. The new generation «Headline news, not just in terms of fashion, but on a historical, national and international level,» said Ioannis Guia, a young Greek designer based in Paris. «Saint Laurent’s departure is just an event which shows the problems of the field, but I do hope that creativity will win in the end. Haute couture will always have a clientele, even if there are fewer of them these days; there will always be women who will want to be dressed more exclusively.» As a designer who changed the way women dressed and ultimately lived, a Saint Laurent fresh point of view will be dearly missed. The heritage, however, is there for all to share. «When you lose the source, you lose a living element of fashion design,» says Guia. «Yet, at the same time, all the classic designs he delivered are so important, that we find them every second of the way. He is omnipresent, that’s the word that comes to mind.»