Celebrated custodian of haute couture, Didier Ludot extols the unwaning appeal of treasured threads from Paris' famed fashion houses.
Perpetuating a passion for fashion, Didier Ludot's vintage finds stand testament to the golden years of haute couture.
Set in the grand splendor of Paris' Palais-Royal, Didier Ludot's vintage landmark stands as a testament to a treasured tradition of fashion savoir faire. Over four decades the acclaimed couture aficionado has accrued an enviable list of vintage votaries, from Demi Moore and Reese Witherspoon, to runway royalty Naomi Campbell and Stephanie Seymour. The on-rail list is no less impressive as Ludot's acclaimed collection includes iconic ensembles from the wardrobe of France's leading ladies such as Catherine Deneuve.
Although born in Brittany, Didier Ludot has an innate understanding of the significance and unique sense of style of the capital of couture. Upholding the image of the "chic Parisienne", Ludot is an indefatigable exponent of "Le Petit Robe Noire (the little black dress). This longstanding staple of the perfectly procured wardrobe has become the calling card of the city's most illustrious vendor of vintage. In 1996 he penned an homage and staged a successful exhibition dedicated to its timeless appeal, followed by a successful collection of antique-inspired robes in the most-fashionable of non-colors. This season xxx . Each exceptional ensemble leaves its indelible mark as a chapter in the annals of fashion's fabulous history.
Didier Ludot's definition of luxury:
A one-off dress and knowingly instinctively how to wear it, which is an even rarer thing. There's a great pleasure for me in selling a dress like this, a dress that seems magically made for the body it's being worn by.
If luxury were a moment?
A big moment!
If luxury were an object?
A unique haute couture dress.
If luxury were a person?
I think it would have to be Coco Chanel because she knew how to incarnate luxury.
If luxury were a place?
The Borromean Islands near Lake Maggiore. They're sublime.
You are the crowned king of Paris vintage and a celebrated couture historian, what first spurned your passion for haute couture?
It began when I was very small. My mother was a very elegant woman who kept all of her clothes, my grandmother did too. We had a big house with lots of outfits from the 20s, 30s and 40s etc, so I was always surrounded by clothes. They weren't any particular couture labels because my mother didn't wear haute couture, but in country towns they had dressmakers who made very good copies of haute couture models of Lanvin, Carven, things that weren't from couturiers. You know, in the papers you could buy dressmaking patterns, so from the age of two or three I accompanied my mother to the dressmaker for fittings. I kept everything, I have all the shoes, the bag, the hat, everything.
Which is your favourite period of dress and which couturiers do you most admire?
I really love the dresses of Poiret and Schiaparelli of the 1930's or the 1960's Paco Rabanne, all the Gaultier, and Galliano and Dior of today. Every period had something interesting. I mention the couturiers that I prefer, but I love all the periods.
Which designers are the most collectible?
I find the most important couturiers are, Schiaparelli and Vionnet from the 1930s, after came Balenciaga - who was very important for couture - madame gres, Yves Saint Laurent, which is relevant from beginning to end, and then Thierry Mugler, Azzedine Alaia and Claude Montana in the 1980s,
What current trends are you seeing in vintage fashion?
There aren't any because the people who love vintage don't go for trends, they fall in love with a piece of clothing. Whether it's a 40s Paquin, a Courreges, or a 1950s Dior, there's no diktat. It's very free with vintage, it's more a question of emotion. A women comes here and can fall in love with a dress and it's not important whether it's from the 50s, or the 70s. The clients who buy vintage have a culture of fashion and instinctively know how to wear it in a contemporary way.
What is it about haute couture that has makes it so enduring?
Right now everyone is interested in haute couture because it is a dying trend. There are less couture houses, and less clients. Also in the past, the very rich clients would buy just as many day clothes from haute couture as they did evening clothes. In the Fifties and Sixties they bought clothes for shopping, for lunch, for cocktails, but now that's all over. As this time disappears, people become more and more interested. Now haute couture is more about exclusivity.
What is the star piece of your collection?
There are many – I don't buy anything that I don't like! There's a robe from Madame Grés in brown, from the 1970s that is very beautiful, I guess maybe it's that.
Which is the most valuable piece?
The most expensive are two pieces from Chanel from the 1920s. A black coat in floral mousseline with a tweed interior from the 1920s. I don't keep them in the shop because they are usually reserved by the museums or the big collectors, like Azzedine Alaia who I work with a lot - we buy a lot of things together for his foundation - so I don't keep these things in the boutique because they are really fragile and one wants to be able to sell them so that they can be properly preserved.
Which are the oldest pieces in your collection?
I have pieces from the 1920s, but anything before I don't like too much. I like a piece that is still wearable, still modern enough to wear. Pieces from Worth and that I don't really like so much. I like very much when women collect vintage to wear, as I feel that this is its true function, and also the women who buy it wear it with love because the clothes that they have chosen are treasured, and in general each piece is unique - that's important.
What would be your dream acquisition?
The Yves Saint Laurent 1965 Mondrian dress. I have a huge private collection because I keep many pieces for me. I have close to 20,000 pieces of couture from all eras and all couturiers. I have loads of pieces from Yves Saint Laurent, but not the Mondrian!
Are there any possible plans for a museum in the future?
Yes I think so, although I don't know when. I'd love to buy a little chateau in Touraine, and show a room devoted to each couturier. My dream would be to organize a dinner in the room of each designer, a soiree for Balenciaga, another for Yves Saint Laurent, an evening of Jacques Fath, that's my dream.
Do you ever develop an emotional attachment to a gown?
No, because I know that I am selling it to a woman who respects it, or to a collector or a museum who will protect each piece.
As a celebrated collector of couture for four decades, what are the most important things to consider when purchasing vintage items?
Make sure that the piece is an original and that it has not been altered. Look inside to make sure the lining hasn't been changed. For example, if you buy a Chanel skirt which has been altered in length, it's no longer interesting.
Where do you find most of your truly unique pieces?
I've been around for so long that people just know me. Maybe a very old lady will be sorting through her wardrobe... I sometimes go to press sales too to buy haute couture pieces on sale. I don't go to auctions so much, sometimes I go to London.
You are the first stop for prized costumes from the golden days of haute couture such as Dior's New Look or early Schiaparelli, but do you ever purchase new pieces for investment purposes?
Yes, because I don't think that vintage stops at an era, it still has good years ahead. For example, I thought the last collection of John Galliano for Dior was magnificent, so if I can buy a piece from that, then I will. I may also buy a piece from Jean-Paul Gaultier. I have many recent pieces, it's not a problem. I have lots of Galliano for Dior because I love what he does and because it's the continuation of a period, not an end. What is important is that the piece marks an epoch, the style of the designer and is representative of that moment in fashion.
You recently showcased the work of Zac Posen, a relative newcomer? How did this come about? Do you intend to present any other contemporary talent?
Yes I do because it is interesting not to exclude things just because they are not old. When I went to New York I saw lots of Zac's work, I thought it would be fun to display his work mixed with pieces from Azzedine Alaia, Madame Grés; to have a young designer shown alongside the great French fashion culture. For me it was an important juxtaposition of things. I'm also planning to show the work of French designer Alexis Mabille
In your opinion who are today's potential future masters?
Oh there are many! I can't say who will be the next master. There are lots of people that I really like, so it's difficult to choose. I find Hussein Chalayan very intellectual, his work, his approach, it's very interesting. I also like Viktor & Rolf.
You were responsible for the 1996 exhibition and penned an homage to the ultimate style essential, "Le Petit Robe Noire" – The Little Black Dress - which has since become your trademark. What do you feel characterizes the perfect LBD?
The little black dress is the most important piece in any wardrobe. When I'm buying it's the first thing I look for, so I decided to do a collection. Working with a designer I create my own collection of 13 models per season, plus a bolero and a coat. Starting from the base of a Dior or old dress, and in a mini couture manner, the dresses are hand-finished, mounted on organza, linings trimmed with lace; the dresses are really beautifully made inside. For this coming winter the collection pays homage to Audrey Hepburn, the dresses that she would have worn.
What is the most flattering silhouette?
There is no perfect silhouette because it's a question of preference, I don't prefer straight over flared or whatever, I love all shapes.
What is your definition of the little black dress?
It is something very important, it touches every generation, every demographic. Also men love it, there's a timeless fantasy of a woman or their favourite actress in a black dress. It's just something that touches everyone. It's also the quintessence of the chic Parisienne, it's very French, very Parisian, for me it's the quintessential French dress.
What is the quintessence of Parisian chic?
It's the fashion, the ambiance in the restaurants. It's an aesthetic melting pot of chic! Everyone comes here, even the couturers, for example Italian designer Valentino lives here. Everyone comes here for the fashion from all over the world.
Didier Ludot's Paris itinerary
Walk in one of the most Parisian neighborhoods, such as St Germain, followed by lunch at Café Flore.
Visit the galleries near the Beaux Arts and Madeleine Castaing. Go to rue de Beaune, rue de Verneuil and rue de lille for antiques.
Discover antiques, jewellery and the Goyard boutique on rue St Honore,
Explore lesser known districts such as rue Mouftard in the fifth arrondisement for its little museums such as Le musee Bourdelle and the Musee Gustave Moreau in the ninth arrondisement.
Didier Ludot's favourite dinner destinations;
Le Mathis (3, rue de Ponthieu, 75008. : 01 53 76 39 55)
Chez Georges (1 rue de Mail, 75002. T: 01 42 60 07 11), L'Escargot Montorgueil (38 rue Montorgeuil, 75001. T: 01 42 36 83 51)
Anahi (49 rue Volta, 75003. T: 01 48 87 88 24)