What is haute couture and is it still relevant?
Haute couture is what many like to call ‘original fashion.’ Although in France it is protected by law and certain criteria must be met, it is essentially high-end fashion that has been hand made from start to finish and is often bespoke designed to fit an individual customer. Most of the big names in fashion that we know and love – from Chanel, to Dior – started out as couture houses, as the ready-to-wear fashion that we are so used to today is a rather modern invention. In 2016, haute couture has become a term synonymous with luxury – couture designs can cost tens of thousands of pounds and the market is small and exclusive. For many people a couture gown is a pipe dream, which begs the question, is couture still relevant and will it survive?
Ultra luxe shows
The 2016 Fall 16 couture season achieved a great deal of attention globally and this has caused many people to look again at this most exclusive of fashion clubs. The time and expense involved in staging a couture show is awesome and given that most of the really high end fashion labels make their margins through accessories, the question is whether staging these ultra luxe shows with their eye-wateringly priced outfits is really worth it.
A rise in couture sales
The first thing to note is that, despite recent recessionary times, couture demand is starting to rise. Chanel’s SS14 couture collection, for example, generated 20% more sales than the year before and many big brands are predicting an increase in couture demand by upwards of 30% based on sales rises like these. New markets such as China, Russia and the Middle East have help to boost sales in couture designs and there is still a hardcore of dedicated couture fashion fans supporting the labels in Europe.
Another important part of couture is the relevance it has to the non-commercial side of fashion. Which is a funny thing to say given that a couture dress could potentially cost more than a luxury car. However, for those who are not able to fill their wardrobes with hand stitched beading or layers of the finest silks, the couture collections nevertheless provide some serious inspiration. It’s also a chance for designers to really show off what they are capable of, and in doing so to perhaps push the boundaries of fashion design and style engineering. A great example of this is the most recent Iris Van Herpen collection, inspired by cymatics – a vibrational phenomena cause by soundwaves that can be seen across fluid surfaces – which included a dress made from silicon coated glass balls.
And finally, couture design is important because it flies in the face of disposable fashion, something that has not only made the fashion industry one of the biggest polluters but which has generally seen standards drop across the board. As designer Ronald van der Kemp recently said, “I long for the days when luxury fashion was still a deeply intimate affair. Women would build up wardrobes that accentuated their personal style, carefully selecting designers they liked. They happily saved up for that perfect dress or jacket, knowing it was crafted with love and would last a lifetime.” Perhaps there’s something to be said for saving and craving for something for months, whether it’s a £150 bag or a £15,000 dress. All good things come to those who wait…