French Fashion

Last week was all about art.  This week, we are making a shift into what the French are well known for besides their food and culture…their fashion.

You can thank the days of Louis XIV as the reason why luxury fashion became the “IT” thing.  He started the trend in the mid-1600s and the trend never died.  It’s still going stronger than it ever was. During Louis XIV’s reign, fashion seasons and fashion styles began to change on an ongoing basis.

It was the need for couture fashion and the French court’s extravagant lifestyles impoverishing the people of France that led to the demise of Marie Antoinette and the start of the French Revolution.  Marie Antoinette’s very own dressmaker, Rose Bertin, was the first to open up her own dress shop before the revolution came to town.

From 1860-1960, couturier houses came into being.  Louis Vuitton was founded in 1854.  Vogue magazine began publication in 1892.  The first fashion house to open was opened by Charles Frederick Worth.  He was well known as being able to dictate to people what they would wear.  Jeanne Paquin was the first woman to open a fashion house.  Coco Chanel opened up her fashion house in 1925.  Balenciaga opened up in 1937.

Many fashion houses closed during World War II, including Chanel.  After the war, Christian Dior, Balmain and Givenchy came onto the scene.  Chanel returned in 1952.

In the 1960s, Yves Saint Laurent broke onto the scene.  In the following decades, Gaultier and Lacroix hit the scene.

It wasn’t just fashion that dominated the scene, the cosmetic industry in France became one of the biggest in the world.  Many of the biggest name brands got their humble beginnings there.

Many of the brand names I’ve mentioned here have a rich history and continue to be one of the most expensive and cherished couture brands in the world.  The name is not the only reason for its price tag.  You have to add the master craftsmanship as being the best in the world, and they also choose from the finest materials in the world to create each luxury piece whether it be clothing, accessories or cosmetics.

Because of the demand for couture products, which is generally only affordable by the rich, counterfeit couture items started to hit the market.  Louis Vuitton has been plagued by it since its beginnings in the mid-1800s.  Counterfeiters over the years have become so good at their craft that it is hard to distinguish the real from the fake.  You have to have a keen eye for detail to determine which is the real one and which is the fake.

Then again, why carry a fake?  Believe it or not, when I travel internationally, if I’m carrying a designer bag, I am always stopped.  The contents of my bag are removed and an officer inspects the bag itself for authenticity.  Fines for carrying a fake couture bag can be anywhere close to the retail price of the real bag (or more).  In other words, it’s a crime to carry a fake.  If you can’t afford the real one, you’re definitely not going to be able to afford the fines.

Building a Couture Wardrobe

Since today’s post is a shopping post, the question is: How does one who is not oozing with money but loves couture fashion build a couture wardrobe?

You shop smart and you have to be okay with shopping vintage.

Angelina Jolie carrying Louis Vuitton's Sac Plat (
Angelina Jolie carrying Louis Vuitton’s Sac Plat (

When Angelina Jolie started carrying the Louis Vuitton Sac Plat, I knew instantly that I wanted one.  It was sold out in stores immediately.  It took me several years to find one and I found it through a consignment shop in NYC called INA.  It was gently used, but it was the Sac Plat I had been looking for.  Now, the design is back for sale online at Louis Vuitton.

I’ve scored Celine and Givenchy at sample sale sites like Modnique and Rue La La.  I’ve found the bags I really wanted but couldn’t get fast enough when they first came out (like the Valentino Rosette tote bag) at Fashionphile.  Granted, it took a few years to get it, but I got it.

The good thing about these sites is that even though they may sell a few items that are gently used, they let their name stand for itself by backing up the product they are selling.  They want you to know that it is 100% authentic and they’ll back it up by letting you return the item if you don’t believe them.  There’s no funny business.

I takes years to build up a couture wardrobe.  I’ve been working on mine for several years now.  I’m a Valentino fan, so my biggest finds have been a $3,345 Valentino dress for $2 at The Outnet 2-year anniversary sale.  I scored a pair of Valentino shoes from Modnique for $80.  I have a whole collection of Valentino scarves I picked up from now defunct Daffy’s.  They were selling them for $45 a piece.  I stocked up.  As one retailer in Florence, Italy told me…it’s impossible to get Valentino scarves at that price.  She can’t even get them at that price!  I told her…in NYC, you can.

Unfortunately, those days of massive deals in stores like Daffy’s is a thing of the past.  Many stores like Loehmann’s and Daffy’s (both places sold major couture designers at affordable prices) have closed their doors forever.  Century 21 still exists, and luckily, they are online.  You won’t find the Jimmy Choos online though…you have to go to the store.

Sure, there are outlet malls, but you’re getting defective merchandise and sometimes items that are made specifically for the outlet store.  It’s not coming directly from the main warehouse of it’s main store.

Balmain skirt from
Balmain skirt from

Another important element to purchasing couture is TIME.  A great time to buy couture is when The Outnet and Net-a-Porter have their semi-annual sales.  I’ve gotten everything from Karl Lagerfeld to Bally shoes to Valentino boots to Miu Miu clothes for a steal at these sales.  Technically, I save up in between sales so I can splurge when the sales hit.  At the last The Outnet sale, I picked up a $4,445 Balmain velvet-brocade skirt for $666.00.  I had waited over a year for that skirt.  When it hit that price, in my size, and it was the last one…I sprung.  It was meant to be mine.

For men who want to wear couture, I’ve found great deals at sample sale sites like Ideeli and Gilt.  Both sites also sell women’s clothing and home decor.

Another place to shop are charities. is my latest daily haunt.  The person donating the couture items gets to pick which charity the money goes to.  So you’re not only buying a couture item, but you’re also giving to charity.  I picked up a Gucci satchel recently for $100 at the site.  My friend shops the site more than I do and loves everything she’s scored from these massive deals on couture items.  Needless to say, she kind of hates me now because of it.  😉

The Pieces To Start With

Start your couture education by looking at magazines and seeing which styles and designs you like.  If you tend to gravitate towards a certain designer again and again when you see items you love, that’s the designer you should invest in.

For me, I started off in the accessories.  Usually accessories are much more affordable and easier to find on sale than their more popular items.

For Valentino, I started off with a pair of sunglasses I picked up at a sample sale site.

After that, I always checked the various sample sale sites out there, looking for what they had for sale when it came to Valentino.  As time progressed, I found more and more different ways of scoring Valentino pieces until my collection became a nice sizable one from my favorite designer.

For the more voluptuous woman, if your favorite designer does not cater to your size yet, but you just love them…start with their accessories.  It’s what I did when I first started.  Sooner or later they’ll catch on that they have a whole base of fans that they should be catering to.

Start with one piece at a time.  If you discover a massive sale (like those Valentino scarves I found at Daffy’s for $45), then stock up.  You’ll never see a sale like that again.  Since those sales rarely come, just start with one piece at a time.

When it comes to money, decide on one specific designer each year and work your way towards saving that year to own one item from that designer.  Sometimes I find that the hurdle is buying that first piece.  After you buy that first piece, it’s all smooth sailing.  I usually create a savings plan after looking at the price of the item I want.  I then spend the next year looking for that same item (or something similar) by that designer at a lower price, all the while, saving the money up for the purchase.  If I find a great deal along the way and have the money saved already for it, that’s when I buy…not a moment before.

Another way to buy couture is to start at the makeup counter.  During times when the economy is bad, the cosmetics department’s sales usually boom.  You can get your Chanel on without spending 4 figures.  Personally, I prefer to go to Saks, especially during their bonus events.  You can get an awesome bag with lots of samples from expensive brands inside.  Trust me, it’s a great way to load up on perfume for the year.

So start small…even if it’s just a key ring…start small and with what you can afford, gradually working your way up to the bigger purchases.  Sometimes the immediate gratification is what we need to feel like we own something magical.  I remember how it felt the first time I owned my first couture anything.  I felt like I was on top of the world.  I still feel that way when I buy something couture.

It’s all about having fewer, but better things.

About Michelle Kenneth

Michelle Kenneth is the voice behind