“It’s a surprise!” said Alexis Mabille
as he led me into the ornate side rooms of the Palais Garnier in Paris to find out how the designer was celebrating 10 years in haute couture. Inside a long room was an artistic ode to the women he has dressed with success over the last decade.
“The dress and the woman are one,” was Mabille’s view, as he displayed a life-size photograph of its owner above each dress. “My haute couture is the marriage of my style and my clients’ desires – a fusion of my codes and each woman’s charisma,” the young couturier explained.
From his beginnings designing decorative bow ties with a quirky elegance, Mabille approached couture from its roots up, developing a rapport with the women he started to dress. So instead of staging yet another fashion show, he made things up-close and personal.
Even if the presence of the clients had not lingered like a perfume in the air, I would have enjoyed looking at the delicate craftsmanship of the clothes: the mother-of-pearl embroideries on a dress where semi-transparent mesh veiled pale pink velvet; or the butterflies embroidered in glistening black crystal on a satin shirt that was teamed with high-waisted tuxedo trousers.
The fact that the outfits belonged to model and actress Audrey Marnay and the legendary French actress Leslie Caron – both so different in style and age – made the display fascinating. British photographer Matthew Brookes – whose powerful study of male dancers, Les Danseurs, is published in the autumn – brought these women and their different characters to life in his images.
Not all the clients chosen for the display were famous or linked to the fashion world. So although I enjoyed seeing the burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese in a graceful emerald-green satin dress rather than one of her provocative striptease outfits, I was equally interested in the mother-and-son image of ballerina Marie-Agnes Gillot.
By showing haute couture as a gift to women who want to choose clothes in their own image, rather than red-carpet fantasies, Alexis Mabille did fashion proud in this anniversary celebration.