Paris Couture Combines Fashion and Fantasy

Finding balance and inspiration at Paris fashion shows with help from friends.

ByColumn By Phillip Bloch

July 16, 2008— -- Life is a constant balancing act.

I take great pride in keeping my relationships and friendships as balanced as my diet and designer wardrobe. I've got my homegirls I grew up with on Long Island, my glam goddess Hollywood girls and an eclectic mix in between. But certain places, events and moments in this oh-too-fabulous life as a fashionista are surreal, even to me. So to keep myself in check, I love sharing those moments with my chosen family: my friends. And there is no better place than Paris during Couture Fashion Week to share la belle monde.

The couture shows are a veritable petri dish of red carpet and ready-to-wear fashion. And although I've been to this carnival of fetishist fashion several times before, the fun, excitement and glamour are more enhanced when shared with friends. So, for this couture go-round, I called upon my best fashion friends to share in the festivities.

Up first, Gloria Limani-Armstrong, my BFF and fashion muse since we were in the third grade. She is now a Southern triple threat, raising a family, being a wife and partner and managing restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow's latest venture, the Maxim Prime in Atlanta. Gloria, my suburban alter ego, and I live our lives vicariously via Verizon.

It is fair to say that couture is not part of this domestic diva's everyday vocabulary or lifestyle, but that's what we gay husbands are for! We keep the balance by bringing the glamour! As Gloria so brilliantly put it, she gets to "dip her toes in glamorous waters, enjoy a swim and not get caught in the undertow!"

Next on my list is my other BFF and traveling buddy, Keisha Whitaker, who does the Hollywood Housewife Triathlon. In her hustle and bustle lifestyle, she is a mother, a business woman and a wife all day, every day. Fortunately for me, her hectic schedule happened to find her heading to London with husband Forest Whitaker and their three fabulous daughters to attend Nelson Mandela's 90th Birthday Celebration and promote her ultra-hot Kissable Couture lip gloss line.

Of course, she was thrilled at the idea of seeing fashion to the umpteenth degree and thought it would be great family fun to bring Forest and her oldest daughter, Autumn, who is now my newest protege at 16.

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree! Her mom -- a former model, entrepreneur and Vogue It-Girl -- is one of the few who actually wears couture. So how does she balance the frills with the day to day? "I think there has to be a happy middle ground between couture and ready-to-wear," she told me. "In fashion, there are definitely those statement moments and other times where classic chic and subtle work best."

I'm happy to say I had a part in one of those statement moments, when I dressed Keisha for the 2006 Oscars. The buttercup yellow bias-draped Georges Chakra sheath she wore the year her husband Forest won for best actor helped launch the couturier's successful foray into red carpet dressing.

Couture confections, like the one Keisha wore, are inspired by the dreams of whimsical designers who create clothes with no concern for price, practicality or people. These multilayered masterpieces of tulle, embellished embroidery, beading, ruffles and fur lavishly exist to feed the creative fires of fashion. These frocks not only show up at high society parties and in luxurious magazine photo spreads, they serve as the top of the pyramid in the trickle-down effect of retail.

As John Galliano at the House of Dior sent '40s-inspired nipped-in waists with dominatrix-style belts and Karl Lagerfeld for the House of Chanel launched futuristic cocoon-like pastel gowns into the fashion stratosphere this July, I couldn't help but be a little assured that, come fall, everyone shopping at Kohl's, Bebe, Express and Forever 21 would be sporting a watered-down version of these catwalk creations.

Let's face it, there has long been talk in fashion circles concerning the purpose of couture's very existence. Here is a world in which balance is meaningless, in which theatricality and overembellishment is never tempered. And the ready-to-wear world has become increasingly fashion-centric. When fast fashion outlets like H&M and Zara can translate runway styles in a matter of days and retail behemoths like Target are offering capsule collections from some of the most current and innovative designers, does couture still have a place?

I would like to think that it does, if only as a stepping stone for inspiration. My lovely Gloria, in particular, saw the shows as a reminder that she should be "more creative" in her everyday ensembles. Keisha, a regular fashion show attendee, always waits "with bated breath to see if the ideas will work in real life."

Of course, the couture spectacles will be minimized in effect as they will be in price. Fast fashion stores will be offering their versions for under $100 as opposed to the average couture price of the tens of thousands. But keep in mind the old adage: "You get what you pay for."

As I sat through the autumnal gowns and lace and organza confections being sent down the runway at the Georges Chakra show with Keisha on one side and Gloria on the other, I thought about balance not only in the clothes in front of me, but in the women beside me. How would each one translate what they saw? How would each one temper the fantasy with reality?

For Gloria, the couture shows made her "more willing to experiment with color and shapes -- and show a little more skin!" For Keisha, the shows served as a reminder to "take more risks and love every moment."

My humble opinion is that no matter how you find your balance, you should always leave the drama and theatricality to the actresses on the red carpet and the couturiers in their glass Eiffel Towers.

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