Clothed In Couture


cou · ture


the design and manufacture of fashionable clothes to a client’s specific requirements and measurements

When you hear “couture”, what comes to mind?

  • Expensive?

  • Tailor-made?

  • UNattainable?

  • Handmade?

  • Artisan?

  • Social status?

  • Quality?

  • Intention?

  • Elitism?

For me, I’ve always thought of couture as two fold: unattainable and tailor-made. Frequently, I’ve romanticized the idea of couture - as in having my own one-of-a-kind something made exclusively for me by a well-known someone. This day dream usually involves me draped in the finest silks and laces laid perfectly on top of luxurious taffeta and tulle combinations as I whirl about a well lit ballroom beneath a Baccarat chandelier. In my daydream, I’m also a size 8 (because I’m type A and I have to be somewhat realistic!) with perfectly sculpted arms, my hair doesn’t frizz, my butt doesn’t jiggle and the Christian Louboutin heels I’m wearing don’t land loudly on the marble floors beneath me like hoofs on a horse.

Instead, I glide - nearly floating - as I twirl and whirl in my couture gown… move over Kendall Jenner!

Then, the email pings, the dog barks or the bank account alerts and I’m snapped back into my reality.

Friday night date night arrived. We’ve decided to put more focus on investing in us in 2019 - so naturally we decided to include investing in new experiences on our ‘2019 To Do List’. So, off to the museum exhibit I’d been eyeing for months: Balenciaga in Black.

The idea of luxury and high fashion has always intrigued me (see daydream above). Maybe it’s the whole, “you always want what you can’t have” notion at play. But, I prefer to think of it as my keen eye for design and my excellent taste in quality. In my other career, I’m a Training and Quality Manager for Richemont; a conglomerate based out of Geneva, Switzerland with brands in their portfolio ranging from Cartier, Montblanc, Panerai and Chloé. I consider it a privilege to work for such a prestigious company with a long history of quality and be in proximity to incredible, world-renowned artisans. However, I certainly have yet to obtain C-Suite status so alas my longing to procure one of our masterpieces will elude me a few more years. But, for tonight, I put my daydream aside, I pack up at work and head off to the museum where I’ll choose to focus on the art - the process - the artist.

As I made my way through the exhibit, I read all about Señor Cristóbal Balenciaga, his process, his tools and his artworks. Most designers of his day were accustomed to using cream toile to create their patterns. However, what set Señor Balenciaga aside from the designers of his time was his choice of toile - black toile to be specific.

The beginning of the exhibit showcased scraps of black toile as well as a few original drapings with the most delicate and yet somehow romantic markups. You could see the evolution of the garment from flat scraps, to draping and marking to the final masterpiece.

As we continued to enjoy the exhibit we traveled through time from the early 1930s through the late 1960s. Each season, each decade, each garment showing new levels of mastery, new achievements in his notoriety, and new accomplishments in design before it’s time. Señor Balenciaga’s creations reminded me a lot of… us: You and me!

You might be an artist, a teacher, a parent, an executive, a student or still trying to sort it all out…No matter what your ‘title’ or ‘role’ is in life I’m curious to know: When was the last time you took a step back from the proverbial easel of your life to examine the artwork created as a result of your life? Have you ever considered the scraps and mockups of your past could be leading you right toward a masterpiece you never imagined could exist?

I can’t help but think of King David…

To me, David is one of the most relatable characters in the Bible. He was a simple shepherd boy, tending to his sheep when God called him and anointed him as the future King. I imagine the young king covered in dirt, scrawny yet showing signs of becoming a man, his build was probably promising and I bet he had a smile a mile wide. His presence made you comfortable and you could tell he was kind but maybe in the nerdy-shepherd boy kind of way. But, I digress…. Can you imagine Samuel’s face in those seconds between seeing David for the first time and hearing God’s voice. Underwhelm, intrigue and curiosity could possibly be used to describe Samuel in that moment.

Now, I’ve never made a couture gown (hold you shock and awe!). But, I have to think Samuel might have felt like I did the moment I saw Balenciaga’s black toile scraps. There was an overwhelming feeling of, “huh - well, okay then” as I examined the scraps behind their glass enclosure. This was the beginning of Balenciaga’s art - his process - his legacy. But, it definitely didn’t look luxury. I saw nothing in those scraps, how in the world was he going to take those pieces of black cloth and turn them into designer gowns coveted by women for decades?

When we come before God, we aren’t ‘much to look at’ in the eyes of the world. In fact, even the Bible says:

All of us have become like something unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment; all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind. - Isaiah 64:6 HCS


To the Creator - we are everything. We are the bride who wore couture… He sees our potential, He pursues our hearts and He continues to press us, push us and drape us until we begin to take the form of something… of someone … who resembles more of Him than ever before. He sees us, He sees our sins, He sees our feeble, helpless and messy selves and STILL He sees a beautiful creation in the making!

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature, because I have rejected him. Man does not see what the Lord sees,[d] for man sees what is visible,[e] but the Lord sees the heart.” 8 Jesse called Abinadab and presented him to Samuel. “The Lord hasn’t chosen this one either,” Samuel said. 9 Then Jesse presented Shammah, but Samuel said, “The Lord hasn’t chosen this one either.” 10 After Jesse presented seven of his sons to him, Samuel told Jesse, “The Lord hasn’t chosen any of these.” 11 Samuel asked him, “Are these all the sons you have?”

“There is still the youngest,” he answered, “but right now he’s tending the sheep.” Samuel told Jesse, “Send for him. We won’t sit down to eat until he gets here.” 12 So Jesse sent for him. He had beautiful eyes and a healthy,[f] handsome appearance.

Then the Lord said, “Anoint him, for he is the one.” 13 So Samuel took the horn of oil, anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and the Spirit of the Lord took control of David from that day forward. Then Samuel set out and went to Ramah.

1 Samuel 16:7-13 HCSB

© Joshua A.M. Stephens Location: Kimball Art Museum Fort Worth, TX Designer: Cristóbal Balenciaga

© Joshua A.M. Stephens Location: Kimball Art Museum Fort Worth, TX Designer: Cristóbal Balenciaga

Isn’t the imagery of Balenciaga’s gown in progress an incredible visual in the context of the Gospel?! We are literally scrapes before Him. And yet, our Creator molds us, marks us, drapes us, and forms us slowly into something beyond our wildest dreams!


As I spent time staring into these three glass display cases, I couldn’t help but notice the incredible attention to detail. Markings, stitches, pins, lines, scratches, tears, folds…. they looked ‘cool’ but I didn’t understand. I couldn’t see it. What did Balenciaga see that I couldn’t? Where was he going with those markings? What did they mean?


Reflecting on our past can sometimes bring up the ugliness we never wanted to face again. We look behind us and see pain, bondage, mourning, brokenness, and all the wounds to prove it.

Again, I can’t help but think of King David…

God called David a "man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22). Yet, David’s process was anything but clean. He had a penchant for making terrible choices! In fact, David broke more than half of the ten commandments:

  • Murder (2 Samuel 11:17; 12:9)

  • Lying (2 Samuel 11: 7-8, 12-13)

  • Adultery (1 Samuel 11:4)

  • Coveting (lusting) a neighbor’s wife (2 Samuel 11:3)

  • Stealing/Taking another man’s wife (2 Samuel 12:9).

David’s process was downright ugly! Even still, David continued to turn to God, confess his sins, and ask for forgiveness. God continually forgave David and loved him through the process. And what a process it must’ve been - can you relate to a tough process? A molding, bending, stretching and marking process? One where God seems to relentlessly showcase your flaws only to get to the end of the experience and see He was stretching you and ‘pinning' you for your own good? For you to become the masterpiece He imaged you would be?


Balenciaga was the name on the advertisements for the exhibit but I didn’t spend nearly enough time learning about him as the artist. I found myself drawn to the images, the artworks, more so than I was the tiny black plaques that sat at the foot and on the wings of his designs… He was everywhere in the garments yet I spent little time getting to know the genius behind it all.

As we left the museum I began to reflect and realized how little I knew about Balenciaga despite our hour and a half stay in the gallery. I saw his masterpieces, I took pictures and videos, I overheard conversations of others and I got as up close and personal with his works as I could. And yet, I was in such a hurry to experience and enjoy the exhibit, I didn’t slow down to learn about him.

Now, my eyes are no longer on King David but my own navel.

Is this how I treat God? The artist of all art - the designer of all creation - the maker of all new things and the one who makes all things new? The one who turns my sins from scarlet to white?

I’m afraid all too often this is how I treat God. Marveling at the creation, and failing to understand or get to know the Creator.


The question for me, and maybe for you as well, is:

  1. What would life look like if I shifted my focus off of the art (myself) and onto the artist (God)?

  2. How would I respond to the art (other people and circumstances) around me if I have a better understanding of character of the artist (God)?

  3. Would I be able to understand the purpose of the pins, tears, folds, lines and markings if I spent more time asking the artist (God) questions and discovering more about his vision (his plans) for me (his artwork)?

He longs to clothe us in his couture. He wants us to release all creative control and allow Him to drape us in the finest toile. He’s asking us daily to give Him the chance to stretch us - the mark us - the pin (keep) us safe - to line us with His grace…. Lord, let that be our prayer today. May we also desire to be your art, to walk in the process with you and to honor you as our Creator.

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Psalm 139:13-15 NIV