This Is Why Couture Is So Expensive

We got a behind the scenes take on two looks from Jean Paul Gaultier couture.

By: Samantha Tse
Photography: Molly SJ Lowe

For more than three decades, Jean Paul Gaultier has been creating visual spectacles with his extraordinary runway shows. From being one of the first to send men down the catwalk in skirts, to fetish and bondage-inspired pieces, Mr. Gaultier has been unapologetic in embracing unconventional references that reflect different aspects of society. For his fall 2017 Haute Couture collection, the French designer continued to draw from the fantastical, but on a more global scale. The collection juxtaposed a winter wonderland with the warm of the Indian sun. His starting references this season were a mix of traditional Indian saris, which were most evident in the draping, and winter athletic staples. He was inspired by the globetrotting women who come into his atelier and whose lives span from the desert heat to the snowy Alps.

Lush knitwear with Swarovski crystal-embroidered detailing, shrunken puffer vests with exaggerated shoulders, and bobble hats were shown alongside reimagined saris, hooded capes and barely-there silk tulle overlays that imbued a sense of lightness. There’s a lot of tactility in this collection. The atelier masterfully created three-dimensional textures using couture techniques such as Irish crocheting and applied beadwork that took hundreds of hours to complete.

We were invited up to Mr. Gaultier’s beautiful atelier, a stunning 19th-century building in the 3rd arrondissement on the right bank, to take a closer look at the ornate detailing and craftsmanship that went into two looks from the couture show. This is the brand’s all-encompassing HQ. It is also where the French designer stages his shows and receives his couture clients and conducts fittings. Fanny Thinselin, vice head of the atelier, walked us through the complex detailing and construction of the two looks from the collection.


“This look represents the theme of the collection. The initial inspiration was the sari, but as the collection evolved, Mr. Gaultier decided to reflect more on the fact that his clients come from everywhere and travel all around the world in the winter season, which gave birth to this look: a sari in a snowy Paris.”

“This look actually was the starting point of the collection and ended up being one of the last finalized.”

“The draping over the dress was Mr. Gaultier’s main focus when designing this look. It was very important for him to have the ruffles of tulle blending with the prints representing Paris under the snow.”

“12 meters were used for the drape, as well as the ruffles of tulle.”

“The dotted detailing was heat-pressed by hand one by one to give an impression of snow.”

“This entire outfit took four people from the atelier to complete, including one person dedicated to the application of the dots.”

“This look went down the runway on model Vanessa Axente, the face of the latest fragrance campaign for ‘Scandal.’”

White silk tulle opera gloves completed the look.

“The dress took 100 hours and the overlay of silk tulle 70 hours.”

“The buckles of the shoes are inspired by snow skiing apparel, with, of course, the couture twist.”

“This dress is mainly made using jacquard, Irish crochet and embroideries using several jet beads, cameos and other pearls.”

“The coat took around 60 hours while the skirt took 30 hours.”

“As for the piece that required the most work, it is undeniably the body, which took 200 hours to complete.”

“The Irish crochet used in the body is a traditional technique that is no longer used and very rare. It is done piece by piece and laid out in pattern on a design board. It takes quite an amount of time, as each piece needs to be tainted, stitched and so forth.”

“The coat took over ten meters of velvet.”

“This entire outfit required four people from the atelier including one embroiderer.”

“The concept was an Indian on a winter night out at the opera.”

“It has an Indian inspiration with the nose jewelry, as well as all the trompe l’oeil jewelry that was embroidered.”

“The gloves are in jacquard printed fabric with a bejeweled Swarovski zip.”

“It required a full day of work to complete.”