The New French Couture: Icons of Paris Fashion

Image of The New French Couture: Icons of Paris Fashion
Release Date: 
November 7, 2016
Harper Design
Reviewed by: 

The first issue that slaps you in the face is the title of this book, especially once you examine the table of contents in The New French Couture. The title is as misleading as are the featured brands not to mention the vernacular that is tossed around in a most casual way. Most members of the dedicated and die hard fashion population use words like couture and atelier in their purest sense. Couture is usually intended as shorthand for haute couture, and ateliers generally refer to the workrooms where the petit mains labor over the creations of haute couture. If you are one of those readers who adhere to these definitions then you will be in for a shock once you begin reading.

The author takes these two terms and loosely applies them to mean that couture is top shelf ready to wear designers/brands such as Hermès, Dior, Chanel, Saint Laurent, and four more, while the term atelier, according to the author, applies to workrooms or design rooms; very confusing and mystifying for the seasoned reader and even worse for the neophyte to take her interpretation as gospel.

Then of course Elyssa Dimant compounds all of this by referring to Balenciaga as haute couture along with Hermès and Louis Vuitton. Wrong! She might have been far better off titling the book Icons of French Fashion and omitting the couture part as it is wildly if not erroneously misused and misleading. Seriously educated  readers and devotees of fashion are quite sensitive to these terms as they define  segments of fashion that are held in the highest regard: the roots of the art and craft of fashion; it just doesn’t get any better than real, honest to goodness haute couture when it comes to design and workmanship. Aside from all of that, haute couture is made to measure and there is an immense schism in price between haute couture and top tier ready to wear, let alone that haute couture is not available in any shop.

Ms. Diman, who is an accomplished authority on the subject of fashion, would know better than to toss these words around so frivolously given the language of fashion. The question remains: Is the book is worth reading? The reply would be yes, but with great reservation. Six years ago this reviewer stated that the author seems to revel in the intellectualizing of her topic to the point of absurdity. And guess what? Things haven’t changed all that much in that time. Let’s say it is a bit of challenge to read and possibly a bit of a challenge to believe as so much is so highly subjective.

The bottom line is that the book reads more like a treatise or thesis rather than an informative monograph on the topic of fashion. The text is at times pedantic and sometimes pretentious not to mention over-documented. The verbiage comes across as professorial and more textbook-like than a source of informative reading. On the plus side, the images are wonderfully crisp, but once again, not always what you would expect from a book of this caliber.