Couture Fashion Week: Bringing the Public to the Front Row

Behind the scenes at Lourdes Atencio, Couture Fashion Week
Credit: Maddy Streets

High up in the Crowne Plaza Times Square showroom, the excitement was tangible. Photographers adjusted their lenses and took test shots, while teenagers took selfies with their iPhones. A fashion insider strutted to the front row to take her seat beside a cluster of women who chattered amongst themselves, a birthday badge pinned flamboyantly to one of their blazers. As the pulsing music began to beat louder and louder, opportunists jumped up onto the stage and posed for photos, able to pretend the crowd was here for them. In the wings, an assistant fretted over a hem as the models began to line up. The room thrummed with energy. Then the music reached its crescendo, the lights dimmed and the crowd finally fell quiet.

Couture Fashion Week was in session.

          While not as renowned as its sister, New York Fashion Week, Couture Fashion Week is no small venture. Running over three days, 11th-13th September, the event hosted eight shows, 22 designers and more than 14 musical acts. Between them, they represented twelve countries. Haute couture is understood to be one of the highest forms of fashion, requiring hand-construction and custom-fitted clothing, yet Couture Week also proves to be one of the most democratic events of fashion week. It is not just a space for beautiful clothes, but a platform that enables more people to get close to the glamour of fashion; while there were the expected handful of A-list clients and journalists, there was also a significant number of tickets sold online to the general public. The clothes may be high-end, but there is no snobbery or superiority here. Furthermore, the designers hail from a variety of backgrounds and demonstrate that the event is focused on talent and quality, not publicity or connections. Without the bluster surrounding other international fashion weeks, guests are able to focus on the clothes.

At 6pm on Sunday 13th September, the evening’s showcase saw the designs of Lourdes Atencio and Jorge Diep, both collaborations between designers from the USA and the Dominican Republic. Staged against the sultry rhythms of singer Vanessa Cruz, the dresses were an explosion of color and sexiness; a real merging of cultures. As Marlon Hiraldo, part of the design team behind Jorge Diep, said afterwards, “We have American people and Latin people. So we wanted to mix it together, as we are all brothers and in the same country now. It’s interesting that everyone has a little bit of everything.”

This cross-section of identities was particularly demonstrated through the combination of bright, shiny materials and the sleek, modern silhouettes that are so often associated with the New York woman. A repeated technique was the use of a nude, stretch fabric on which intricate embroideries were overlaid to give the impression of a second skin: the opening looks were monochrome interpretations, with block-colored peplum skirts to set off the elaborate bodices; later looks showcased fuchsia, teal and cerulean patterns on nude backdrops.  However, there was a clear, concerted effort to maintain a certain taste level. Brighter colored garments had more modest silhouettes, while the large number of white and black dresses were cut seductively – there were a lot of transparent panels hinting at bare skin. In such an overtly sexy collection, it is unsurprising that this was a primary goal for the designers. “We want women to feel comfortable and sexy with their body and we want to embrace powerful women,” said Hiraldo.

At the end, the models came out into the lobby and mixed with the guests, once again decreasing the distance between the public and the fashion industry. There was a strong sense of the humanity within the fashion machine, as models posed for selfies with one another and the design teams received heartfelt congratulations from members of the audience, even as photographers clicked away around them. One model enthusiastically embraced her mother and dragged her into a few photos. Her mother, Kristina Barkey, 52, New Jersey, later explained, “I told her she could do whatever she wanted with modelling, as long as it didn’t interrupt with college. She moved to London and fell in love with international travel.” A proud smile lit her face. “She’s up at grad school right now, at Harvard doing International Relations.”

Couture Fashion Week currently stands as a bridge between the dizzying heights of the fashion world and the realities of everyday life. It is much easier to see the hard work put in by real people in this environment, where it is possible for the public to experience the clothes firsthand. Here, mothers and daughters stand side by side with stylists, united in their love of design. Here, it is not only the fashions that are innovative, but the attitudes.

Written 09/16/15 for an NYU assignment.


Marlon Hiraldo
Design team member for Jorge Diep, interviewee

Kristina Barkey, 52, New Jersey
Mother of model, interviewee

Couture Fashion Week website:


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