Couture lives on in young designers

July 8, 2009 9:28:33 AM PDT
Who says couture is for old people?The young designers who show during Paris' couture week, but off the strictly regulated official calendar, prove that made-to-measure craftsmanship is not reserved for the over-60 set.

Vietnamese-born, Dutch-raised Xuan-Thu Nguyen and Eric Tibusch, a Frenchman, on Tuesday delivered collections of wildly inventive pieces made from countless hours of hand-labor.

Tibusch paid homage to Michael Jackson with a collection of elaborate body suits worn over leggings, a la King of Pop from his "Dangerous" days. A leather jacket crisscrossed with zippers recalls the late artist's wardrobe from the "Bad" album cover.

"I wanted to give homage to him and say 'thank you for the eighties, thank you for the inspiration, and you will continue to live with us,"' Tibusch said ahead of his show, which was almost coincided with Jackson's Los Angeles funeral.

Other highlights included a mosaic mirror bodysuit, a gown in rainbow zebra print and a jacket with built-in hotpants made from plucked monkey-fur that took an estimated 450 hours to craft. It was second hand monkey fur, Tibusch assured, adding "I don't kill monkey now. I like fur but I have my limits."

Fashion is a family affair for Nguyen, who runs her Paris-based label with her sister, her business manager, while Nguyen herself designs, sews, knits and embroiders her creations with the help of a small atelier.

Unlike Paris' blockbuster couture houses, Nguyen emphasizes creative techniques over luxury materials, crafting ingenious garments out of everyday fabrics.

A pair of black pants at Tuesday's show were chainmail-meets-sweats. Knit by a team of three over six weeks out of 30 meters (33 yards) of linen fabric, the pants were as stiff as armor.

A sheath dress in white linen shifted as the model walked to reveal multilayered kangaroo-pockets of rainbow satin. The whole thing was made from over 200 pieces of fabric, the designer said.

"I think these days, we really make things complicated for ourselves, with phones and cell phones and e-mails and Facebook and Twitter," Nguyen told The Associated Press in a pre-show interview. "I'm not proposing a solution, I'm just reflecting that in my clothes."

If only all complications were that fetching.