“The Best For Less!”

Valentino Fall 2023 Couture Photo by Simbarashe Cha for The New York Times

For four days last week, we were immersed in the rarified world of haute couture, where prices can go well into the tens if not hundreds of thousands, especially when intricate handwork, beadwork, and embroidery are employed. According to a source familiar with haute couture, Chanel, where a day suit starts at around $250,000, and Dior, with day dresses upwards of $150,000, are the most expensive houses. Jean Paul Gaultier is not far behind.

Couture prices are very guarded, but Balenciaga took the guesswork out of the equation this season and listed some of the looks from their superb, well-edited 52nd Balenciaga Couture collection.

Among the more “affordable” items are the $2,400 Blackout sunglasses, the $3,800 Danielle earrings, and the $3,200 Opera Pump heels. There is even a pair of $850 pima cotton couture socks for sale, but the bulk of the collection is in the $45,000+ range.

The priciest item is Look 53, a bustier dress in lipstick red tulle inspired by Cristóbal Balenciaga’s classic couture. It takes 160 hours to complete and costs approximately $109,000. The dress is paired with Balenciaga Couture’s Opera Pump pant shoe, crafted from a high-grade technical silk knit, costing $16,300.

Paris, and the front row of the shows, was seemingly filled with armies of couture-clad customers, some of whom changed several times a day to honor each designer. While haute couture is out of the realm for most, we can still visually partake in the unfolding drama and allow the runways to inspire us more realistically.

To best illustrate, I select nine standout pieces from the recent fall 2023 couture shows in Paris and show them alongside their more affordable alternative. Of course, they will never match the quality or craftsmanship of the couture version, but then again, you’re not paying an exorbitant amount.

Photo left: Balenciaga.com

Left: Look 38 at Balenciaga is a dramatic maxi overcoat made of leopard-printed faux fur (mod-acrylic) featuring an archive-derived C-shape in the rear. It has the same silhouette as Look 36, a black wool coat priced at $43,000.

Right: This superbly tailored maxi coat by Forte Forte is made of leopard-printed virgin wool and alpaca. It is reduced from $1412 to $775 and for sale at farfetch.com
FYI, I am starting to see leopard prints all over, from the men’s spring 2024 collections to the fall 2023 couture.

Left: Sculptural gold and silver jewelry was a theme throughout the Balenciaga show. This statement-making “Rivoli” choker is shown with several outfits. Priced at $22,000, it is first 3D-printed then cast in brass; worked, polished, and finished by hand.

Right: Monies’ iconic, dramatic “Seoul” version is a signature of the brand and even bolder than Balenciaga’s iteration. Made of Acacia wood and gold foil, it is $1270 and for sale at monies.com.

Left: Nothing is more haute couture than black and gold, especially when it takes the form of an elaborately embroidered velvet jacket like this design by Julien Dossena, creative director of Paco Rabanne, who was the guest designer for Jean Paul Gaultier this season. While no price is listed, it could easily cost around $200,000.

Right: Nili Lotan’s gold embroidered black velvet “Patsy” jacket may not be as ornate, but it is a wonderful statement-making alternative. Reduced from $1195 to $717, it is for sale at netaporter.com.

Left, Mary Janes, shown in black, and black with gold cap toes, in a variety of low, walkable heels, were Virginie Viard’s shoe of choice for Chanel couture this season. While I don’t know the exact price, they will cost around $1250 or more based on other similar Chanel iterations currently for sale.

Right: I actually prefer Augusta’s “Lola,” in gold with a black cap toe. Other color combinations, including silver and black, are available. Priced at $275, they are for sale at augustathebrand.com.

Photo Left: Daniele Oberrauch for Gorunway.com

Left: Kim Jones focuses on fluid, draped asymmetric shapes inspired by Ancient Rome for his highly acclaimed Fendi couture collection. Many dresses, like this beauty, which could easily cost around $150,000, were done in nude flesh tones.

Right: You can’t do better than Norma Kamali’s “Diana” shirred asymmetrical one-shoulder gown made of 4-way stretch Poly lycra for the look and the price. Priced at $215, it is for sale at normakamali.com.

Photo left: Belenciaga.com

Left: Look 7 at Balenciaga features a superbly tailored optic white coat covered in white feathers. No price is given, but based on other prices listed on Balenciaga’s website, this will be close to $100,000.

Right: Sally LaPointe, known for using feathers, showed this hand-sewn feather embroidered single-breasted blazer and matching trousers as part of her first bridal collection, but there’s no reason you can’t wear it for other occasions. While pricey, the two pieces together are a mere fraction of Balenciaga’s cost. The jacket sells for $4200, the pants for $3450, and both are available at shoplapointe.com.

Photo left: Balenciaga.com

Left: Pierpaolo Piccioli says his Valentino haute couture collection is “probably the less princessy collection” he’s ever done. One reason is the laid-back vibe and his use of beautiful bow-trimmed flats. They enabled the models to glide through the gardens of Chateau de Chantilly. While I don’t know the exact price of these shoes, they will invariably cost around $1500.

Right, Shein’s Bow Décor Slingback Flats are available in hot pink, ecru, and black. Priced at $21.60, they are for sale at us-shein.com.

Photo left: Valentino.com

Left: Kaia Gerber opened the Valentino show, hands nonchalantly thrust in the pockets of her micro-crystal encrusted silk gazar trousers, paired with a billowy white cotton shirt, unbuttoned just ‘so.’ Don’t we all want to look fabulous and unfussy?

Right: The crystal-encrusted “jeans” may be out of reach for many, but assuredly, one needn’t go to couture to find a great white shirt. You can’t do better than the “Lui” oversized shirt in crisp white organic cotton. Priced at $185, it is for sale at thefrankieshop.com.

Photo left: Valentino.com

Left: The elongated, statement-making crystal earrings were the only accessories shown at Valentino, and they stole the show. While no price is listed, a pair of crystal drop earrings currently on the Valentino website costs $2290, so one can only imagine how pricey these will be.

Right: Dylanlex “Loren” shoulder dusting free-flowing crystal fringe earrings measure a hefty 5 1/4 inches. Handmade with clear Swarovski crystals punctuated with red or Colorado Topaz, each piece is antiqued through an oxidizer ion process after plating to make it look more vintage and, therefore, one of a kind. Priced at $510, they are for sale at Dylanlex.com.

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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