Departures magazine

Dress Code

The Couture Shop Around the

Corner

We'll always have Paris. But six American couturiers bring the glorious tradition right

to your door.

By Julia Szabo on March 30, 2010

Literally speaking, couture is French for sewing. But in Paris in July, it translated into spangles and a pink ostrich headdress at Christian Dior, a beaded tweed dress wrapped in ermine at Chanel, and a fox-trimmed crocodile bolero at Gaultier. All short for the glorious tradition, dating back centuries, of made-to-measure women's clothing generously hand-embellished with embroidery, beadwork, and lace. Paris is still the couture capital, but you don't need to book transatlantic passage—or snag an engraved invitation—to experience the craft's discreet charms. New York has always produced its own couturiers: Mainbocher (a favorite of Wallis Simpson before and after she became the Duchess of Windsor), Hattie Carnegie, Charles James. And today, a maverick group of New York design talents is carrying the centuries-old art into the next millennium, injecting couture with a modern, no-nonsense spirit.

 

I have clients who started with me when they were junior vice presidents and are now CFOs," says Lamb, who credits her made-to-order designs with helping to empower her successful customers, many of whom have been loyal for 20 years. They keep coming back for suits and separates tailored in the tradition of Savile Row haberdashery, with fine menswear fabrics (silk, linen, tweed) and craftsmanship (hand-felled collars) softened by details such as pearl trim or candy-colored Chanel-inspired wool bouclé.

Lamb's background in engineering is clear in the meticulous construction of her designs. Like the finest menswear, a Dara Lamb jacket may be turned inside out at the shoulder to reveal hand finishing that gives the wearer comfort and mobility. Which is not to say that Lamb's creations are all business all the time. Her clients count on her to inject unimpeachably businesslike menswear with fashionably feminine allure: silk-piped buttonholes and satin-covered buttons give serious suiting an elegant edge. One jacket with three-quarter cuffed sleeves is made of playful pink piqué ($1,695); she also offers cocktail dresses and lavishly embroidered evening gowns.

"We allow women to establish their own personal style and maintain it over time," she says. "When you have your clothing made to order, you're no longer trying to fit into someone else's mold—you are your own perfect pattern."

THE CLIENT A no-nonsense executive who views clothing as a low-risk investment. THE COST From $2,200 for a suit to $5,000+  for a hand-embroidered silk evening gown. THE WAIT Six to eight weeks. At 37 West 57th Street; 212-935-2344.

Dara Lamb