“For every dress sent down the runway, there are a hundred behind-the-scenes elements coming together with precision-perfect harmony”
If you’re lucky then sometimes you may come across a book which you will pick up and never want to put down… One which manages the enviable feat of drawing the you, the reader, into an entirely new world. A story to fascinate, thrill & inspire and perhaps, pictures which provoke awe, admiration & escapism. On the blog today, I’m here to share one of those books which has managed to accomplish all of this for me, and hopefully it will for you as well… welcome to The Illustrated World of Couture!
About the Author – Megan Hess
Megan Hess, one of my favourite style illustrators & authors, has recently released her newest creation “The Illustrated World of Couture”, published by Hardie Grant. I first came across Megan’s work after purchasing her “Paris – Through a Fashion Eye” book and found myself spending quite a bit of time perusing her other works in multiple bookstores. Megan is world-renowned for her artistic flair, ability and knowledge of all things style – the fashion industry, it’s designers and history. When I heard that Megan’s latest work was being released, I knew I had to have my very own copy!
More than just a coffee table book…
The Illustrated World of Couture is much more than a coffee table book – although it certainly should take pride of place on one and undoubtedly deserves to be a feature point within any room. This artistic & literary work takes us on a stylistic journey through the elegant, and for many, inaccessible world of couture. A large hardback book (the first of it’s kind from this author) – the gilt edged pages expertly offset the chic black, white & gold illustrated cover. It is simply a must have for any student of fashion, style raconteur or anyone who loves the inspiration of haute couture.
Haute Couture brought to life through artwork
Upon opening the book, the reader is promptly drawn into the exclusive world of couture which is thanks to the glamourous and detailed illustrations by Megan. Megan’s superb artwork of ladies in ballgowns & runway inspired styles are infused with an ethereal & refined aura. These artworks which showcase the world of luxurious style are further enhanced due to the fact they are peppered with references to haute couture designers & high-profile events, such as the Met Gala, Cannes Film Festival and the Academy Awards.
Not just a pretty face
It must be noted however that The Illustrated World of Couture is far more than simply a picture book. Megan Hess has managed to provide a substantial amount of information spanning the entire world of haute couture… which is sure to delight anyone who is remotely interested in this subject, from students to practitioners alike. The book is divided up into six unique chapters which explore the creators, collectors, drama, details, cities and inspiration within this artistic world.
Chapter 1 – The Creators
Megan sums it up perfectly within the book when she expresses how when it comes to the creators of couture, what usually springs to mind are the designers… luxurious labels such as Dior, Chanel, Giambattista Valli, Viktor & Rolf, Ralph & Russo and Yves Saint Laurent. Nevertheless, it’s the craftspeople behind the scenes within the ateliers who play a truly enourmous role in bringing couture creations to light – and it’s these artists who are presented to us…. including the head designer, premiere d’atelier, petites mains, pattern makers (flat pattern cutters and drapers) and the Metiers D’art. Tools of the trade such as mannequins, toile & fit models as well as the pivotal role they play are explored here, with their contribution to the couture process recognized within The Creators chapter.
Chapter 2 – The Collectors
The Collectors is the second chapter within the book and it’s here where we learn about the mysterious couture collectors set. Rumoured to number approximately 4,000 people worldwide (down from approximately 20,000 during the 1950’s), it’s a list of clientele which is apparently closely guarded. Consisting of royals, art patrons and international shoppers requiring pieces for high-society events, weddings and other occasions, along with celebrities.
This chapter also explores the process around obtaining an invitation to shop within the world of couture and dispels any misconceptions that one may always simply purchase a couture piece off the rack in-store! We delve into the lifecycle of a personalised order as well as made to measure services at atelier salons, or even direct to client. Growing hubs such as the Middle East are identified as generating increased demand for couture pieces, at the same time as the long-standing royal clientele who remain devoted customers.
Chapter 3 – The Drama
Theatre & showmanship are the main tenents of the drama within this world – for what use is couture if no one can admire or appreciate it? The third chapter investigates the different areas of drama within the couture industry and these are probably the most publicized aspects which much of the world may be familiar with. Think of the runway shows which draw so much attention during multiple fashion weeks across the globe… These shows are also no longer restricted to a simple runway anymore – designers such as Chanel (who showcase their collections at the Grand Palais in Paris) often exceed our expectations year after year, with awe-inspiring, magical & unexpected backdrops as their refined creations are showcased for attendees.
The Drama isn’t merely limited to fashion shows – often the after parties are just as magical, such as Valentino’s which overlooked the Colosseum. The Academy Awards and Cannes Film Festival also offer substanital opportunities for the world of couture to mix with the inherent drama & glamour of these high-profile events. And who could forget about the invitation-only fundraising event for the Costume Institute, the Met Gala?! With Vogue Editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, as the chair of the event, the Met Gala is purported to be the most creative evening in terms of couture, after Paris Fashion Week!
Chapter 4 – The Details
Possibly my favourite chapter of The Illustrated World of Couture, it’s here within “The Details” where we begin to truly understand the depth of expertise and skill involved in creating a single couture piece. Every layer of tulle, each single bead and all of the fabric flowers are hand stitched on to an item, with painstaking attention to detail. A couture item earns it’s title not purely because a label is sewn onto a garment – but also due to the level of craftsmanship and hundreds of hours which form it’s creation.
Whether it’s each strand of thread meticulously stitched to form part of a Chanel tweed garment or hand pleating expertly finished according to traditional techniques, the details are woven together to create an entire masterpiece. In this chapter, embroidery, feathers and lace are featured as some of the finest examples of the level and depth of intricate details which comprise couture art. Even something as simple as buttons, which are made by hand for Chanel and differ between each piece of a collection, deserve as much attention as the more dramatic components of this world.
Chapter 5 – The Cities
The Cities is a chapter which will excite any traveler and it must be said at the outset that the true home of haute couture is, and always will be, Paris. France as a whole is dedicated to quality when it comes to their products, and fashion remains no different. Apart from Paris, cities such as Milan, London and New York are also considered style hubs…and it is these three locations which also hold the main fashion weeks after Paris.
Globalisation has played an influential role in drawing new cosmopolitan cities into the fashion and couture sphere. Dubai as a hub within the Middle East is a major city renowned for it’s opulence, with a clientele who appreciate glamour especially at private events. Beijing is another hotspot where a love for couture has considerably grown, with designers now taking the runway over to the far East. And finally, Moscow cannot be overlooked – the Russians with their royal history have long made dressing up a pure artform in itself!
Chapter 6 – The Inspiration
Every artist needs a muse and the final chapter of The Illustrated World of Couture explores this very topic with “The Inspiration”. Designers are creatives and need to be open to evolving to continue their relevance … however they often return to familiar sources of inspiration. Royalty is a major source, from robes to jewels to regal colours.
Botanical inspirations derived from flowers stretch far back in time and continue to adorn couture garments in the 2020’s. Whether embroidered or made from tulle, what could evoke femininity more than delicate or ethereal blooms…or butterflies? Fairytales also have their place in the magical world of couture, with designers such as Alexander McQueen drawing inspiration from Brothers Grimm’s dark tales.
A world you may never want to leave…
The Illustrated World of Couture endeavors to take the reader on a journey towards educating and hopefully developing a deep appreciation & respect for this lofty niche of the fashion industry. Megan Hess manages this enviable feat through sharing details across a myriad of facets which encompass the world of haute couture. She adds a final masterstroke through her delightfully attractive & dreamy couture illustrations, which leave the reader entranced & spellbound…. If only for a moment, we manage to escape day to day life and are immersed within the world of couture – and are forever changed after this experience.
I hope you have enjoyed this review on The Illustrated World of Couture! Does this sound like a book you would love to have? Have you read any of Megan Hess’ works previously? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
To learn more about the author and view Megan’s artwork print collections, stationery, homewares & more, feel free to visit her stunning website here. You can also follow Megan along via her Facebook, Instagram or YouTube accounts.