King of couture shows high style
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Cape Town - Jacques LaGrange needs no introduction. Whether you move in South Africa's fashion circles or are a socialite, you've probably admired his creations.
Over the years, his meticulous attention to detail and the glamour of his garments, usually created with a touch of drama, have earned him the title “King of couture”, and his client base includes the who's who of South African society and international socialities.
Describing himself as a “farm boy that happens to be in the fashion world”, LaGrange grew up in Paarl and credits his mother for his creativity.
“My love for fashion was always there from a very young age. I remember during bath times I used to enjoy draping a towel around me in a fashionable way. I also used to drape myself in my mother's curtains... I always had a thing for draping things,” he says.
“When I was a little boy, I played with dolls instead of cars. I had a love for art and nice things and my mother loved to dress up. During those years there were a lot of parties and she used to dress up in these beautiful dresses. People don't dress up like that now. In those days, I would tell her what looks better with what, which shoe and earrings go together... I guess I always had it in me,” LaGrange says.
A fashion design graduate from the South African Academy of Clothing Technology, LaGrange cut his teeth in the world of fashion working for couturier Errol Arendz .
In 1999, he ventured out on his own with his label, Jacques LaGrangeCouture.
“Working for Arendz was nice and people often ask me, did you learn something from Arendz?' But I don't really think I learnt that much. I learnt how to work with people because there was a lot happening on a daily basis, but a flair for fashion is something I always had,” says the designer, whose first creation was a wedding dress with a panelled corset and bead-encrusted neckline.
Online encyclopaedia Wikipedia describes “haute couture” as a French word for “high fashion or high dressmaking”.
It further says it is high-end fashion that is constructed by hand from start to finish, made from high quality, expensive, often unusual fabric and sewn with extreme attention to detail and finished by the most experienced and capable sewers, often using time-consuming and hand-executed techniques.
His designs are constructed with luxurious and quality fabrics, sourced from the world's most respected fabric manufactures such as Jakob Schlaepfer in Switzerland and Solstiss in Paris.
Valentino, Chanel and Dior are some of his favourite haute couture masters.
“Haute couture is a way of putting a garment together, the techniques, the fabric choices, the styling, the proportions... it's like being an architect. You get fashion and you get couture, and I always say, couture is a lifestyle',” says LaGrange.
“Couture is made for the body. The fabric, workmanship and proportions are key. Not a lot of people do couture because it's very expensive. I could afford to do things differently when I started out because I had high-end clients. Whereas new designers are struggling more because they haven't really found themselves and their signature... I always knew what I wanted to do,” he explains.
“Real couture takes months to create if everything is done by hand. It can take up to six months, which makes it very expensive.
He describes his typical client as an elegant, confident, strong and powerful woman who knows who she is, what she wants and who is not afraid to draw attention to herself. The demand for his services is great, with a stream of orders coming in throughout the year, says LaGrange.
“I am a very simple and plain designer, but I am over-the-top at the same time. Sometimes we have to work quickly to produce a garment which is not really proper couture, but an illusion. Also, if you do proper couture, the dress may appear outdated, so we cheat here and there to make it more modern.
“Sometimes we do very simple wedding dresses and sometimes over-the-top extravagant gowns. I enjoy the whole process, from the start to seeing the end product. It gets frustrating sometimes, but I love doing things such as the beading by hand.
“I have dressed a lot of people over the years, high-end people who live the couture lifestyle.
“ I never planned on being a wedding designer, but I did one wedding dress and everyone loved it - and they kept calling. I always say that if you dress a bride and you don't get clients from that wedding, then you are doing something wrong.
“All my referrals are by word-of-mouth. I am fully booked and I don't even have a website. I am active on social media, but I don't really believe that's how you get business. It's nice to be out there, but that is not how my clients work... They fly in and out for consultations, from Paris and all over Europe...
“We create beautiful garments that people sometimes think are done by a European designer. They come here wanting one dress, but they leave with three.
“A lot of people ask me, what awards have you won?' I have won a couple, but it's not the awards that make you famous, it's the clients.
“You can have great people writing about you in magazines and you can do TV interviews - all of that is great for a brand, but at the and of the day they are going to pay for your lifestyle,” says LaGrange.
Nontando Mposo, Cape Argus