BAZAAR Academy: We'll Always Have Paris
Photo: Courtesy

Harper’s BAZAAR has always been about nurturing new talent and uplifting the next generation. After all, what would this 153-year old title be, had the likes of Carmel Snow not taken the chance on a young Diana Vreeland, who in turn recruited Richard Avedon, who was 21 when he shot his first assignment for BAZAAR? To that end, Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore has been committed to the BAZAAR Academy for five years now—linking educational institutions in this country with the world’s most esteemed fashion companies to provide students an insider’s look into exclusive events, exhibitions, talks and parties.

Last October, we decided to take the BAZAAR Academy to the next level by flying a select group of students to Paris to experience firsthand the spectacle of one of the largest fashion shows in the world, visiting the ateliers of haute couture, and fully absorbing the rich heritage of a legendary 110-year-old House. Two of the spots were reserved for the local finalists of our Harper’s BAZAAR Asia NewGen Fashion Award 2019 competition, Rena Kok and Zoey Zhao, while the remaining three were opened up to students of the other fashion and art disciplines at LASALLE College of the Arts. The winning entries— comprising essays and portfolios of their work—came from Navin Pillay, a student of Fashion Media and Industries; Si Xuan Chok and Sarah Lin, both Fine Art students.

Related article: Kelly Vallerie Crowned Winner Of Harper’s BAZAAR Asia NewGen Fashion Award

First up on the agenda was the Chanel spring/summer 2020 show—a hotly anticipated affair since it marked Artistic Director Virginie Viard’s first outing on the Paris Fashion Week ready-to-wear calendar. Her set of steel and slate Parisian rooftops erected inside the Grand Palais refl ected that unique blend of realism and romance she has brought to Chanel; her previous sets for cruise and couture were an old-world train station and a cavernous library, respectively. That same spirit of French effortlessness infused her collection—think tweed playsuits, easy A-line skirts, lots of shorts and weightless dresses, all worn with flats or low heels.

For the students, their first international fashion show was wondrous. Kok, who has a special interest in fabric development, was “in love with the textiles and prints; the richness of the materials, but also the lightness.” She also adored “the fresh colour palette that Virginie Viard employed, and the way she used the Chanel logo as a graphic print.” For Pillay, what he found most amazing was “the fact that you can see very clear strands of the Chanel DNA, as well as codes that were very distinctly Karl, and yet there was also newness that showed Virginie Viard’s hand as well.”

Related article: Paris Fashion Week: 10 Best Looks From Chanel Spring/Summer 2020

BAZAAR Academy visit Irene Kim in Paris
BAZAAR Academy visits Irene Kim in Paris. Photo: Courtesy

After the show, the Academy was whisked off to lunch at the Mini Palais next door, where the appearance of legions of Chanel clad VIPs and stars like Yuna, Zhou Xun and Riccardo Tisci suffused the atmosphere with even more glamour than usual. Later, Editor-in-Chief Kenneth Goh called up his friend, Irene Kim, to schedule a visit for the students; the Korean model and entrepreneur was in town to launch IRENEISGOOD, her lifestyle and apparel label.

At her hot-pink showroom, Kim walked us through her new venture while the students picked the mind of one of fashion’s most followed personalities on various topics including the business of influence, her pricing and product strategies, and what it takes to build a brand from scratch and launch it in a crowded market in this digital age.

Having witnessed the presentation of fashion in its full spectrum, from Chanel’s grand spectacle to Kim’s Instagram-driven start-up, the Academy then got a rarefied look at how the highest echelon of luxury fashion is made with a trip to two of Chanel’s Métiers d’Art ateliers. Housed under the brand’s Paraffection subsidiary, the Métiers d’Art ateliers are specialised Parisian studios acquired by the late Karl Lagerfeld to ensure the preservation of their savoire-faire. Each works on a specific component of Chanel’s haute couture pieces—as well as those of other brands—and once a year, the highly meticulous work they do are showcased in a Chanel Métiers d’Art collection shown during the pre-fall season.

BAZAAR Academy examining the treasures of Maison Lesage
BAZAAR Academy examining the treasures of Maison Lesage. Photo: Courtesy

Related article: Meet The 8 Regional Finalists Of The Harper’s BAZAAR Asia NewGen Fashion Award 2019

The Academy had the privilege of visiting Maison Lesage, which works on tweeds and embroideries; and Maison Lemarié, who fashions Chanel’s iconic camellias and crafts its intricate feather pieces. At the former, the students got a chance to dive deep into the archives containing every sample ever commissioned by Chanel for its haute couture and Métiers d’Art collections, each intricate swatch a miniature work of art on its own. They were also awed by the dizzying processes that go into the making of intricate haute couture embroidery. Even before the actual work of embroidering can be undertaken, hours would have been spent plotting and fleshing out the vision of the artistic director.

A craftsman took us through the entire operation from interpreting the moodboard and sketches, to planning—every individual bead and stitch has to be engineered and placed with mathematical precision—to prototypes, and finally, the end product. Kok marveled at the process. “It’s unbelievably enlightening. I’m seeing techniques I’ve never seen before, and learning all these new ways I can apply to my work to take it to the next level,” she said.

In the tweed workroom, the students were faced with shelves that ran the entire lengths of walls, stacked floor to ceiling high with yarns in every hue imaginable. Nearby, craftspeople sat at looms weaving tweeds that form the house’s signature jackets, each trimmed and weighted with a hidden chain so that it would fall on the body just the way Coco Chanel liked it.

Ostrich feather at Maison Lemarié. Photo: Courtesy

Over at Maison Lemarié, the students were shown how the artisans craft wonders out of their extremely delicate raw material, from bubble skirts made entirely out of plumage to bags adorned with dreamscapes rendered exquisitely in multicoloured feathers. In another room, a group of craftspeople were dedicated to the art of making camellias out of all sorts of materials. The students learned that the traditional Chanel camellia is composed of 16 cotton petals, with each bloom taking about an hour and a half to fashion, while more elaborate versions in tweed, calfskin, wool, silk, feathers, shearling or metal require more attention. On average, the artisans at Lemarié produce about 40,000 camellias a year. That such a seemingly small flower within this vast brand required the full commitment of an entire atelier is emblematic of the pursuit of excellence at Chanel, and it has lodged itself most indelibly in the minds of the BAZAAR Academy participants.

As Pillay puts it, “the attention to detail, the amount of times they draft and trial, keep making improvements, experimenting with multiple interpretations, and yet still work so effi ciently with such elaborate, intricate details—it has been really eye-opening.” Inculcating new ways of seeing and widening visions—now that sums up the mission statement of the BAZAAR Academy as good as any.