New York Fashion Cool-Aid ®

“Couture has become an overused term, like luxury,” said Timothy Pope, a man who should know. True haute couture the way that he experiences it through his eponymous TLP Consulting, is “not at all intimidating. It’s gracious, beautiful — everything that it should be in a perfect environment.” Mr. Pope made these remarks, along with plenty of witticisms punctuated with a fake French accent, on Wednesday evening at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) during an FGI event entitled “Through The Looking Glass: A mirror on couture with Timothy Pope & Simon Collins.” The event was sponsored by Fendi in celebration of their 90th anniversary.

Nicole Fischelis

After being introduced by Macy’s Nicole Fischelis (the two have known each other since Fischelis was a SA at SFA in SF (got that?) who brought over clothing to Karl (Lagerfeld) when he was at Chloe. “He even remembered how I was dressed that day,” said Fischelis of Pope who had went on to work with J. Mendel and Geoffrey Beene.

Simon Collins, former Dean of Parson’s School of Design, now at his eponymous House of Collins consultancy, interviewed him and then opened it up to audience questions. His direct (and sockless) manner resulted in queries like “What exactly do you do?” Answer: “Well, I noticed at these major fashion houses that the clients were far more interesting than the designer. The clients were business people and I saw a need that was not being filled. The idea hatched very quickly for the consultancy. So basically I serve in a curatorial function, by going to all the Paris Couture shows (“amazing, thrilling and life-changing productions”) and some Ready-to-Wear, and make recommendations for my U.S. clients.” Of course, it doesn’t end there–he also helps them make the right selections including customization of a silhouette or adjustments to fit the client’s needs. Pope serves as a bridge between the client and the artisan, managing a tricky collaborative relationship between the two. He also has quite a bit of leverage it seems, “The client knows the atelier seeks my approval,” he said.

Why does anyone buy couture? “People buy A LOT of Ready-to-Wear and more becomes a management issue.” (I’m with you there!) Pope feels it’s better to elevate your taste level and to have less but of a better quality. “Couture remains in people’s closets for a lifetime. It’s designed for you, fits your life, rather than the design the designer sent down the runway,” he explained. He spoke of how he is considered a “secret weapon” by a prominent businesswoman who relishes looking perfect (and being respected and listened to because of it) when she walks into a man-filled boardroom. He told a hair-raising story of a client in L.A. who the morning of her son’s wedding eschewed the carefully curated hand-picked couture dress that she had bought with him to wear, with an “I’m not feeling it.” After getting the 911 call he raced over to her closet and they selected a Christian Dior dress designed by Gianfranco Ferre, not the couture creation. At that point I may have swallowed a fly since my jaw dropped so hard and stayed open so long.

Mannequins on display

The clothing items on mannequins in the room spanning a decade, were used to illustrate Couture to Reality through a slide show that the technologically-challenged Pope had trouble controlling. This served as a good illustration of how the client works with the head of the atelier (almost never with the designer) to make changes to the designer’s vision. The designer is rarely on board as 1) he’s too busy and 2) this way you don’t risk “bruising his ego.” In one rare instance Christian Lacroix actually met with a bride and her mother, giving them six sketches from which to pick, choose and incorporate design elements from each. The resulting dress was on view almost bringing tears to Pope’s eyes as he recounted the story.


When asked how he justifies the expense of couture, Pope’s answer reminds me of the documentary “Dior & I.” He recounts how he “feels the energy– almost like being in church–it’s other wordly” upon walking into the various Maisons. He also mentioned the employment of the thousands of sewers and craftsmen in the couture industry who are sustained by those who appreciate the luxury of the handmade. “The few who buy it are employing thousands of people,” “It’s like buying a painting,” and “I’m getting verklempt — that’s a fashion term, isn’t it?”

Also, speaking of “Dior & I,” (watch video) I’m reminded of a scene in which the head of the atelier departs with the main seamstress when “Mademoiselle” (an important client) calls from New York, to which Raf, in the middle of producing his first women’s collection, looks absolutely desolee, like an abandoned puppy. I didn’t believe it at the time but, yes, the private clients are of the utmost importance. Unbelievably, the largest couture customer block is in the U.S. (everyone guessed Russia or Saudi Arabia) and much shuttling back and forth is managed by a smart house who will come to the client and minimize her inconvenience and maximize her time. Incidentally, Pope didn’t mention it but apparently he is visible in the film which I will now have to rewatch.

Pope with a Lacroix

The secret to keeping a look selective? The “one dress per country” rule. According to Pope this can sometimes cause a problem when the lady in Paris shows up at a luncheon in New York. During audience questions, Pope accidentally blurted out a NY client’s name (the octogenarian painter Janet Ruttenberg) who bought an absolutely perfect Lacroix for a special occasion only to come home and add her own touches of paint along with some ill-advised lace snipping. After a distressed call to Pope, the dress was returned to the House of Lacroix for damage control. “What ees zhees?” Monsieur Lacroix apparently screamed upon seeing it — however he ended up saying he thought it was great that “the design process” had “continued.”

Pope mentioned that some of his clients were now passing down their well chosen couture to their daughters and granddaughter’s some of whom only want to go shopping in their closets. The shows have changed as well increasing in size from about 200 people in the ’90s to about 1,000 now, and are largely used for diffusion lines of handbags, perfumes and red carpet– often not a single client attends.

Lastly we were treated to this video from Fendi entitled ” Fendi Legends and Fairy Tales: Backstage,” so that we could experience what only about 200 people experienced including the July Autumn/Winter 2017 Couture show which took place on a glass panel over the Trevi Fountain.

– Laurel Marcus

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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