Something magical happens twice a year that leaves those lucky enough to witness it in such a state of excitement and awe, mere mortals can only wish they’ve seen it up close. I have to admit that I’m left completely mesmerized by it. It’s times like these when the Internet comes in handy. Style.com, anyone?
With more and more fashion weeks occurring annually – Spring/Summer, Fall/Winter, Resort, Pre-Fall, and Men’s – no collections have as much impact and influence than that of Haute Couture. It’s remarkable to see how a small number of design houses (keep in mind they also create a limited amount of pieces for their shows) can leave an indelible mark on the fashion industry.
But what makes couture so legendary?
Take, for example, Riccardo Tisci’s ten-piece collection for Givenchy: amidst the leathers and furs, the spotlight was on the intricacy of the beading and embroidery. A floor-length gown made entirely of beadedfringe was meticulously put together by hand. Without reading the show notes or reviews, one would think it was fabric. There’s no doubt that this beadwork is currently being copied for fast fashion brands – by machines, of course, in three-fourths the time.
Karl Lagerfeld, master of all things innovative yet unmistakably Chanel, used embroidery to mimic the house’s signature tweed. Again, the hundreds, easily thousands, of hours spent working to create novelty fabrications are what make couture, well, couture.
The immense attention to detail, as is prevalent in Elie Saab’s collection, lies not only with how these garments are cut, but also with the delicate Chantilly lace, paillettes, sequins, and other various handmade appliques that decorate them. Although these small details can easily be missed when A-list celebrities (those who are privileged enough to borrow Saab couture) are photographed on the red carpet, the admiration for the work needed to create these pieces is certainly not lost.
Newly minted Christian Dior creative director, Raf Simons, went back to the storied atelier’s design archives. While the beadwork and embroidery were much more toned down in comparison to his predecessors as well as those of his couture counterparts, it was Simons’ emphasis on construction that garnered him the most praise. It doesn’t have to take a tailor to figure out that the attention given to procure such perfectly cut pieces takes enormous skill and precision. How I dream of being able to witness the way his team creates these patterns!
After the shows and presentations are completed (read: after much swooning, ooh-ing and aah-ing), a majority of the eye candy that walked down the runway, however, remain just that.
In a modern world focused on ready-to-wear, mass production, and quick response times, haute couture represents an art form that is slowly fading. The diminishing number of couture lines from several design houses also reflects their client base – rumored to be in the two hundred range (the 1% of the 1%, if you will). Oh, to be a royal or the Daphne Guinesses and Ulyana Sergeenkos of the world… Side note: Interestingly enough, Sergeenko, known for her vast collection of couture and membership in the “Russian Fashion Pack” (otherwise known as fashion week’s streestyle fodder/paparazzi-magnets), recently debuted her own couture collection in Paris.
The expenses on custom embroidery alone made by the House of Lesage in Paris (a legendary embroidery studio who worked on designs for Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent, et al. since 1922) for instance, will run in the thousands for a single garment. It doesn’t make a lot of financial sense if only one piece is ordered from a collection of twenty; not to mention the labor-intensive process of tailoring the garment to fit the client.
Unless thy name is Chanel. Couture continues to be a prosperous business, affording Lagerfeld the manpower and materials to create sixty-piece couture collections which easily match, even rival, his ready-to-wear.
So, why continue on with couture?
It’s selling a dream – the very dream that leaves couture aficionados and the general fashion populace alike inspired by the designs and pure creativity infused in these one of a kind pieces. Couture is fashion’s highest form of luxury and exclusivity, carrying with it a hefty price tag for something that is both tangible and intangible. Bits and pieces of couture inspiration continue to trickle down from designer to fast fashion. In a way, couture celebrates old-world craftsmanship and marries it with 21st century innovation.