Some Like It Haute

Does a socialite's wardrobe at the Met represent the last gasp of couture?

Striking gold: Nan Kempner's Yves Saint Laurent evening cloak
photo: Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art
When he's asked why the wardrobe of one deceased grande dame merits a whole exhibit, Koda shrugs, then states without apology that he simply loves the haute couture. "From the perspective of the museum, what interests us is the conceptual rather than commercial. The few couture houses that exist preserve a certain level of craft that can't be replicated! When you see a Valentino couture gown, you know it can't be by anyone else."

And if it all went away tomorrow, if the last of the petit mains—which means little hands and is the name given to the army of beaders, embroiderers, seamstresses, and other anonymous toilers who work on these garments—died off, if the last couture customer took her money to Zara or Banana Republic instead (and this could happen), how upset would he be?

Koda looks crestfallen. Then he tries one more time to explain what he thinks is so marvelous about the haute couture, and suddenly it is possible, if only for a moment, to appreciate couture solely through his practiced eye. "I love it because it is breathtakingly beautiful. It is beyond anything you see in your life! It's like Vermeer versus the Washington Square art show."

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