The elegantly dressed woman stands out on the metro, away from the center, on the way to the Parisian suburb. Two young men of Arab descent sitting across from Esther (Natalie Bay), examine the rich lady and want to test her. The coat must have been expensive, whether they felt it – someone was already rubbing the cloth between their fingers. The attack appears threatening. When it comes to clothing fabrics, ester is their ingredient. It is a woolen coat lined with silk, as you are studying, not faux silk, but of high quality. Unlike the acrylic that young men wear, acrylic stinks: “In your underwear,” Esther explains relentlessly, “it sure doesn’t smell like flowers.”
France has voted – and revealed a turmoil that is also currently the subject of various films. In Haute Couture, social differences are easily seen in the clothes: Esther works as a manager at Dior and probably only wears tailored clothes. Jade (Lina Khoudary) comes from the suburbs and wraps herself in a polar fleece that looks like a balloon, draping it up to her chin. Jade steals Esther’s handbag and regrets what she did and returns the bag. This is how you meet a suburban girl and a haute couture seamstress.
Jade lives in Seine-Saint-Denis, north of Paris, where there are prefabs and the crime rate is high. Many of the people there have Maghreb or black African roots. In the first round of the French presidential election, every second person voted for leftist populist Jean-Luc Mélenchon. As amusing as “high fashion,” impressions of this quarter still seem realistic: Jade doesn’t go to school, but isn’t interested in the job either. Her mother is depressed and luxuriant for a long time, and perhaps her Arab father ran away at some point. Hanging out with her best friends, taking care of her mom, stealing cosmetics or a handbag, this is what everyday Jade looks like.
Director Sylvie Ohayon, who herself comes from the suburbs, approaches the subject with much more realism and optimism than, for example, “La fracture” (German: “In Good Hands”), another current French film, a social film that has already broken In bears the original title. Haute couture is a fairy tale between tulle and silk – Banlieue and J’adore-Dior-Paris must be combined in a patriotic story. Esther Jade offers an internship at Dior after the handbag is stolen. It’s just unbelievable at any point – but this is when tears mend: you have to force the ends together very hard.
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Warm fabrics like an ester wool coat, can be a shield like jade polar fleece — or turn a suburban girl into a princess for a moment. Above all, however, the tulle and silk fabrics are Jade’s chance for a self-declared life, as Esther explains to her teacher. The tailor wants to pass on her craft and sense of beauty shortly before she retires, and she’s also terribly lonely. Jade became her surrogate daughter.
“I am a suburban romantic who was able to free myself,” says the director, talking about her love for France and how she worked so hard in her youth. In the case of love, you cannot be sure that you will love again, as a friend was quoted as saying. On the other hand, work always gives you what you gave it.
With a Puritan work ethic, Esther, who has devoted her entire life to beautiful fabrics and dresses, bestows upon her. Nathalie Baye makes a great sketch of a stubborn, highly disciplined woman who is passionate about her job, but also pays a heavy price for it. As the story of Haute Couture seems to be “made-up”, the female characters are alive and true: the seamstresses in the studio, but above all, Jade and her best friend Souad (Sumaya Bokom), who love each other like a sister. Jade breaks Soad’s curly hair.
But a good training threatens to tear the two apart: Souad laughs at her friend because she wants to work, and she herself will live comfortably on welfare and housing benefits, except for the state – France. “France,” Jade replied, “that’s us.”
A lot of patriotism may sound false, but it feels cohesive as the sudden realization of a suburban young man. In what may only seem naive, the director emphasizes France’s self-image with her film, that belief, skin color and origin are not that important in this country. In any case, people are not as clearly sorted as it first appeared: some of Dior’s dressmakers originally come from the suburbs. And Abel (Adam Bessa), who falls in love with Jade, has dark skin and is actually called a slave, but he’s never seen Suburbia before. His mother is a rich Arab lawyer.
Haute Couture F 2021 – Directed by: Sylvie O’Hayun. Writers: S. Ohayon, Sylvie Verheyde. Camera: Georges Lechapteau. Editing: Mike Fromentin. Casting: Natalie Bay, Lina Khoudrey, Pascal Arbelo, Claude Peron, Somaya Bokom, Adam Bessa. Rental: Happy Entertainment, 100 minutes. Theatrical release: April 21, 2022.