Elle, Gabrielle.

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Over the years, I bought a great many books on Coco Chanel. Not only because I’m into fashion, her achievements in fashion are more than just outstanding, she was the designer of the century, there was no competition to question that, Balenciaga surely was an artist, carefully designed perfection-to-wear, he was born to give Mona von Bismarck her raison d’être, and Dior gave the world the New Look, a look so very old now, so very démodé, visited today by millions in a museum in Paris, next to the Mona Lisa, a woman whose mysterious smile has turned into a grimace when it had become that liveless cliché it is today, a smile so rarely if ever smiled back at, merely admired, like moth balled haute couture on mannequins, but Chanel’s iconic inventions live on, they are out, on the streets, they breathe and move, they were born free, copied, reinterpreted, updated, backdated, timeless, but all of that, all these hats, buttons, pearls, fake and real, all these two-tone shoes, suits and little black dresses, all that comfy beige tweed and that refined soft lace, these numbers 5, 19 and 22, olfactory revolutions, all of it bears the same genes. Style galore. We owe it to the little black-haired girl from humble beginnings whose genius outlived it all: the Belle Époque, the wars, the Roaring Twenties, the rise and fall of countries, people and fashions, she met and loved Dukes and Grand Dukes, Englishmen and Russians, she encountered Picasso, Stravinsky, Cocteau, Reverdy, Diaghilev, basically le tout Paris of the last century. Two books by Isabelle Fiemeyer, published by Flammarion in English and French, introduce us to some of the traces such a life left behind, we are allowed a glimpse, however long, of private belongings, on letters and jewels, on golden artifacts and worn clothes – these intimate details are treasures not to be missed.

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Balenciaga Black.

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80 % of my mother’s wardrobe is and always used to be black, so I am quite familiar with the sensation of being attracted by black (seize the Oedipus connotation), but when I went to see the Balenciaga exhibition in Paris at the Musée Bourdelle this week, I was stunned as if I had never seen a black dress before. “L’œuvre au noir” showed nothing but his black masterpieces, but whether it was a daytime suit, apparently inspired by the military, or an evening dress, the way the cloth was draped, stitched, sewn and adorned, the way the fabric floated as if it didn’t weigh a thing, yet perfectly in shape, a shape only Balenciaga could ever have come up with, lace and mink, wool and crêpe de chine, embroidered or pure and simple, all of it looked out of this world, this world of quickly put together pieces, from China or Malaysia or where ever work is cheap, made for fashion victims, nouveaux riches or just plain stupid people, who only care about the label but not about quality, those who do know what I mean, you feel completely duped when a 500 dollar shirt loses buttons after the first wash, and I’m talking handwash. Anyway, now I get why Mona von Bismarck refused to leave her bed for three whole days when Balenciaga decided to retire in 1968. A dark day, though not black at all.

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