Couture Fashion Week in Paris: runway shows, streetstyle, guests, and all the magic!
Couture is nothing less than magic, magic that comes into our life twice a year with all the glamour, drama, and extravaganza one may imagine. Runways that would instantly and reasonably become part of the rich history of fashion and show-stopping streetstyle looks are what we all will be seeing and talking about for a week.
Backstage of the Paris Couture Fashion Week
However, the couture magic doesn't stop there; the true story unfolds in the fashion houses' ateliers weeks before the set dates when the iconic brands switch to the 24/7-on schedule, and the most talented tailors and sewists perform their precise handcraft. In addition to the runway collection, the fashion houses will warmly welcome a few of their most loyal and appreciative clients for the private fitting, ensuring their dearest guests will attend the show wearing the selected looks.
All this work, preparation, and gathering of the biggest fashion appreciators from around the world create an extraordinary atmosphere in Paris. It is at that moment when you can so easily spot out of the crowd the ones who cherish the industry the same way you do. And once you do that, you absolutely must take a moment to chat delightfully and share your thoughts on everything happening around you. And that I had the pleasure of doing with one of the most stylish fashion enthusiasts I know, Cathy Ho Lee. She flew from New York to Paris last year for the couture week that took place in summer. While it is not easy to catch Cathy in Paris for any other fashion weeks, couture will have her attending nearly all the most important shows.
Before the chaos began, I had a chance to sit down with Cathy for a tee and a quick fashion interview, which kept being interrupted by our jokes, comments, and endless laughter.
Chatting about couture, shoes, bags, and everything fashion with Cathy Ho Lee
Could you tell me about what you do?
I used to work in fashion for a startup fashion brand. We did New York Fashion Week, but then we decided to refocus the market to China, and as much as I love my founders and partners, I didn’t want to move there, so I left - of course, on good terms, we’re still very much best friends. Anyway, so now I’m actually enjoying fashion on the other side. I don’t know how long it’ll be because I have to say working in it and enjoying it, they’re both equally exhausting. So that’s what I do right now, enjoying it rather than working in it.
What city do you reside in? And how would you describe the fashion scene there?
I currently live in New York City; the fashion there is a lot more experimental, street casual, and adventurous almost. I would say you see a lot more variety because, in New York, there are so many different neighborhoods that attract different styles, unlike London or Paris, where it's a bit more sophisticated and elegant. I wouldn't say there's a uniform, so to speak, but it's definitely more conservative, whereas in New York, it's very wild, and you can really be who you are, that's why it attracts so many types of people.
How often do you come to Paris? Do you feel like there is anything specific regarding the fashion scene in Paris?
I come to Paris quite often, actually. It’s not just for fashion. Actually, my godmother lives in the South of France, so I do come to France quite often, and every time I used to visit her, I would always make sure to stop by Paris because there are just so many reasons to. I love art and design, so there’s no place better than Paris sometimes. And you know, flea markets at Saint Oeun, that’s one of my favorite activities, so no, I don’t just come here for fashion. And the fashion scene in Paris, I would say it’s a lot more heritage, a lot more Maison, more salon-like, more cinched, more disciplined even, and a lot more elevated.
What drove you into fashion?
That's a very simple question but a hard answer. I think it stems from my childhood, probably. I was always that kid who took her outfits every day to school very seriously, and then when I got in trouble with the teachers, the principal, or my parents, I was always wearing something wacky or too revealing. Very not your ordinary student, and it got me into a lot of trouble, you know, with wearing crazy things or slutty things, according to my parents, arguments like spending too much, and like getting banned and grounded. I almost want to say it's like my personality: I'm a bit of a rebel and just always very adventurous and curious. I think when you're young when you're curious, fashion is almost the first thing that you get to be curious about. I mean, I wasn't sophisticated enough or like I wasn't well versed in design and art; I mean, now I'm very curious about design and art and antiques, but I think the curiosities as an individual, really the first frontier was fashion because that was the most, I wouldn't say accessible, but it was the most relatable and like you see it every day growing up right? More so than all the other niches that I'm into, so yeah… I think it is curiosity.
One thing you love about the fashion industry?
I love the freedom, the interpretation; you don't have to explain, it's just- it's a dream.
One thing you don't like about the fashion industry?
One thing that I'm not too fond of in the fashion industry is that you actually age faster than a regular person because there are so many seasons in one year. So, think about every season as a year, right? You have spring, summer, fall, winter, cruise; you have couture, and you have men. If you work in the industry and if you are involved in all of them, that's like, how many years within a year/Your timeline is completely not normal; it's like having an irregular period; it's all over the place, and you do age faster.
How would you describe your style?
I would say my style is quintessentially leaning toward the more traditional side. I still prefer the more elegant, feminine aesthetic, but I also love neutrals. I'm actually a very beige person; it starts from my hair to my skin tone, to my clothes, to my bags, to my shoes. If you get me a Pantone of beige, oh my gosh, I would spend the whole day looking at the different shades of beige because there are different shades, different tones, different lightness, and its… so different, but yeah, from time to time I do try to be a bit more experimental, and it helps that I have friends in the industry, they try to push me to be a bit more brave so there are certain times where I will push myself out of a boundary and just go for something a bit more edgy and bold. Otherwise, I would say I'm normally quite understated; I mean, I like to think I am, but maybe to some, I'm not, but I like big accessories; I love jewelry, so that's what I'm most brave. I'm really brave with earrings, necklaces, rings, and watches, but then, when it comes to clothes, I definitely lean towards more conservative pieces. I believe they should be reworn and cared for, cared after, and I don't really want pieces that are just one piece; I would like to mix and match it, even if it is bold, I still want to mix and match it so I feel like every piece is quite thought out because I'm not very impulsive with my style.
Do you change your wardrobe according to fashion trends or personal favorite classics?
So, with trends, I like to be updated and informed, but I don't follow trends. I like to stick to my personal style because this is what I feel the most comfortable In and the most authentic; its what I feel the most natural in, and when I don't feel natural, I don't think its a good look anyway; it just feels deprived.
What are your five staple pieces that you cannot dress without?
Five things that I can't live without are strappy nude sandals or any strappy sandals that are very minimal. They are just so comfortable, and they go with everything. The second thing would be an oversized blazer/boyfriend blazer; I mean, that's just - that's like the new little black dress for me, actually. The third thing would be… I love lingerie like I love buying camisoles, pajamas, I don't know why, like loungewear, I guess, fancy loungewear, silk loungewear, actually no feminine loungewear, that's what I get. I just keep buying the same feminine loungewear; it's insane because nobody sees it but me. The fourth thing is probably a linen shirt. For me, a linen shirt is like everyone's classic white shirt. A white shirt makes me really anxious. I feel like I'm gonna get the collars yellow; I don't know, but I just can't act natural and be myself with a white collar shirt. It's very CBK. I love it, but it's just not on me because I won't look good. I like linen because with linen, the color is a bit more aged. And the fifth thing is trousers. I love good high-waisted trousers. I think it instantly makes you look so much more polished and ready to go somewhere fancy at the last minute, even.
Does your wardrobe style change based on your travel destination?
Yes, my travel style changes with my travel destination. I always think, is it gonna be more resort, or is it gonna be more rustic? Is it gonna be more cosmopolitan, or am I there to not dress well? It all varies, and there is this little part of me where when I know I'm going somewhere that's not Paris, I feel like I need to rebuy a whole wardrobe because it's so thematic and it's so specific, and you just feel like you need everything new but when I go to like Paris or London, I really just wear what I wear to New York really so I would say the big cities I don't go out of my way to change my style, its kind of who I am still but new locations spots I really explore with different destinations.
Do you pay attention to fashion dramas and scandals when shopping?
I don't care. *laughs* I think the world has become a bit too sensitive. Sometimes, creative people are just crazy. Not everyone is perfect, so everyone makes mistakes, and a lot of times, they're not intentional; they're just being interpreted the wrong way due to oversensitivity or just different perspectives, so to me, unless it is really out of hand and very - like, you know, there's proof to what kind of individual they are and their values and all that then yeah ill think twice. Still, if it's something that personally doesn't bother me, then at the end of the day, I will look at every designer for their creativity and what they have brought to the world as a whole.
Three favorite fashion brands at the moment?
My three favorites at the moment are Schiaparelli, of course, I'm really into Jean Paul Gaultier at the moment, and I love Khaite and The Row.
Three favorite bags in your closet?
Surprisingly, I'm not really a bag person. I find bags very defining, and they take up a lot of space; they're not the best to travel with; they're heavy. I almost feel like when you do carry a bag, a lot of people will look at that first; they don't look at who you are, how you layer your clothes, and what other things you do. It almost takes the attention too much, and to me, it just feels very defining, so yeah, I'm not really into bags, but also, it could be because I grew up with a very bagaholic mom, so that might've turned me off. In terms of my three favorite bags, I would say one of the bags I got for myself is a Chanel metallic mesh embroidered with crystals. It's so sparkly, it's so beautiful, and it's one of those crystal bags that they don't use hot glue to glue it on; it's actually woven into the mesh, which makes it a lot more interesting but also makes it a lot more durable like a crystal would just off of a lambskin, you know? It's a lot more jewel-like, and I love jewelry and accessories, so to me, it feels more like jewelry than a handbag. My second favorite one is, um… my in-laws gave it to me; it's the Hermes diamond croc, and it's not a white Himalayan; it's the gris sander, which is the gray Himalayan. It's a lot more rare than the white Himalayan. I think it looks a lot more subtle and a lot more lowkey; it's the colors; the dégradé is a lot more neutral, but of course, the diamonds make it flashy. That kind of gray Himalayan with a dash of diamonds actually helps brighten the grayness, if that makes sense, so it actually worked out really well. I think if it was a white Himalayan with diamonds, that would be too much for me, but that's one of my favorites because I never see anyone else with it. Then, my third favorite one is probably a Berluti men's bag. It's a really mini-size men's Berluti, and the leather is just so buttery and very unisex; it's very cool but, in a European way, very savvy, if that makes sense. Oh, and I always love a good straw bag. It's just so South of France; it reminds me of my childhood in a way.
Three bags on your Wishlist
I'm not into bags, but I'm into clutches; they're different things. My three Wishlist bags would be the Matryoshka doll Chanel bag that Karl did back in the 2000s. I love the Matryoshka dolls; they're so cute and so fun, and I have such a strong memory attached to them because I was really young. My second one would probably be a Croc mini Kelly in a neutral color, of course, or even something like a really nice cassis purple, but because, as I mentioned, I'm not that into bags, I don't put much thought into acquiring one. It's gonna be something on my mind for maybe a lot of years because I'm never really gonna get into it myself; it's not my priority.
How do you feel about vintage shopping?
I love vintage. Some of the best things are from the past, and unfortunately, we were too young for that, so it's like a second chance. I think vintage is very important because it's an archive in some ways; you can study or learn about the history of a certain Maison. Personally, I would buy vintage; I think it adds so much more than buying contemporary. It's nice to mix; I always believe in mixing new and old, from clothes to my home, furniture, design, jewelry, everything, maybe not shoes, but there's an elegance to mixing old and new flawlessly and eloquently. I think that's a lot more interesting than just everything new, so I'm all for vintage. It's a nice throwback, I think; it's a nice nostalgia, and it's always fun to compare the finishings of a vintage and a modern piece. There's just so much you could do with a vintage; it draws inspiration and gives you a good point of comparison. It allows you to imagine and challenges you sometimes, and it also makes you more aware of how to take care of and learn how to archive things, so I think there's a lot everyone can learn from vintage.
A brand new Bottega Veneta or a preloved rare Hermes?
I would go with what excites you more. If it's the vintage Hermes that excites you more, then go for that. If it's the thrill of getting something brand new in the store, then go for that. I think it's not even an or at this point. I think eventually, you'll get both, so it's which one you feel more comfortable with doing first because, let's be real, it's not an or, laughs it's which one first.
Do you follow fashion influencers?
Yes, I follow fashion influencers. The ones I follow are my friends. In terms of fashion influencers, I haven't met; personally, I don't just because. I think it's because I have some friends who are influencers themselves, so I don't think about following others, but also, I would say, probably not too many. The ones I do are really just my friends, whom I have met personally.
Where do you source style inspiration?
I get inspired by people watching and window displays. I love VM. Sometimes, it could just be one article or item I'm obsessed with, and then suddenly, I have five looks for it. It could also be as simple as a piece of furniture like, say, I'm currently really into the color of a piece of furniture, then I'll start wanting to buy colors of that in my clothes. It's really random, it's very sporadic, but I would say a lot of travel, art, design, and jewelry; all these kind of invite a whole slew of different looks and needing the feeling, the desire to need to hunt for something to go with it, it's never-ending, it's a constant work in progress so I think it probably boils down to the most simple things which are everyday life. I think that it's so open-ended and so ambiguous that it inspires everything.
What inspires you to shop specific pieces?
I think that happens when you randomly see an image or even somebody on the streets, and you're like, "Oh wow, that looks really good; I never thought about it," and now you're really inspired and really on the hunt to recreate or to get the feeling again but it could be with a completely different item or thing. What gets me to want something really specific normally its actually seeing it in real life first. It creates such a penetrable memory or impression that you can't get rid of; that's when the hunt starts.
Do you prefer window shopping or social media?
I love window shopping. I can forget to eat when I window shop; the time just flies by. It's so much more fun to window shop. I like touching things; I need to touch them; it's just so much fun and so interactive.
Shopping in-store or online?
Online is great if you already know what you're looking for, but I like to physically ask and go shopping a lot more… but it can be very time-wasting. Online is more accessible to create different looks and be organized, but I have the most fun when I window shop.
Favorite physical store?
In every city, I have a favorite physical store. I mean, in New York, my favorite department store is Bergdorf Goodman. It's like a bygone era of a place, and it's so well curated. Obviously, there are really nice stores Downtown; there's a ton I can't think of, but Paris, my favorite store to go to physically, is my jeweler's; it's jeweler's like a candy shop; it really gives you energy and makes you happy. That's my favorite store in Paris.
Thoughts on summer wardrobe?
For summer, I personally love crochet. I think they're forever timeless and sexy without being too revealing; they're very appropriate. I love linen, as you know, it's very breathable and casual but very chic at the same time. I love raffia and bold shoes; I think they elevate a lot of the looks without being too dressy or out of place. For me, when it comes to summer, I try to stick to light colors; it's just more airy and breathable, and you can be a bit more carefree in the summer.
As this couture week has come, I can't wait to see Cathy's looks and catch on everything fashion has given us in between the seasons. And if we count the seasons that Cathy and I have not seen each other since last summer, boy oh boy, it's been a few years now!