Couture season is upon us and that's a good thing
My first foray into the fashion world was as an intern, tasked with fetching jambon-fromage sandwiches and dressing models backstage for Elie Saab’s Spring 200-something show in Paris. Personally, I was mesmerized, and one could say “hooked” onto the world of high fashion from that moment on. However, the public doesn’t generally share my enthusiasm. Haute Couture season (literally, high dress making) is an underwhelming bi-annual occurrence which takes place in the dead of winter and the height of the summer’s heat. There isn’t as much pomp and pressure as the main shows in Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter. Nor is there the air of frivolity and bonhomie which surrounds the Resort and Cruise seasons.
Indeed, to gossip over the viability and relevance of couture has become something of an industry wide trope. We have little commercial need for haute couture. Garments bearing price tags of between $10,000-$1000,0000 are laughable to the vast majority of us. The aristocratic class who were the patrons of couture during the 19th century have largely been extinguished. And in America, our notions of a class-based society are mostly restricted to our concerns with inequality—in matters of race, wealth, education or otherwise which also contributes to the idea of couture being utterly ridiculous.
What’s more is that we are increasingly dressing for comfort, seasonality and practicality—at least in America. Many people now find it is perfectly acceptable to wear one’s workout apparel outside of the gym, for example. Even more omnipresent is a generic, unfussy approach to dress confined to strict color palettes and choice fabrics which are exemplified by brands like Uniqlo and Everlane.
So where would couture fit into such a classless, casual society where clothes are cheap and arguably un-special? To me, quite plainly it is one of the few traditions of human craftsmanship that remains impossible to “hack” or otherwise “disrupt” by the tech industries insistence to migrate our lives from the analog world to that of the screen. Ready to wear, by virtue of its accessibility experiences all of the volatility of the market, trends and the capriciousness of its consumers. Vastly out of reach from all of this, couture remains largely untouched by market forces which would otherwise determine its fate. The quality, merit and sophisticated design principles that are required in fashioning couture are worth our attention even if it its ends are ultimately non-utilitarian.
Which isn’t to say that couture has not evolved over the ages- it has. Haute couture is a far cry from Charles Worth’s 19th century notions of dress which is a reality that anti-couturists still hung up on the price tag have failed to see. Iris van Herpen uses 3-D printing for her dresses, for example. And, like our current state of dress, the styles seems to be getting more casual every season. A quick survey would show Valentino’s ethereal, breathy chiffon dresses of 2014 have given way given way to neutral-toned pant suits in Spring 2018. There are the reliable standbys, too. Saab faithfully sends dresses down the runway fit for a princess (or, more aptly for our time, Queen Bey). Margiela, true to form, is defiant to the whole idea of couture, “upending” any traditional notions of what couture should be by more or less piecing together scraps of fabric and deeming it "art" or "apparel" or something between the two.
The whole landscape of couture season has become a diverse smorgasbord of ideas, attitudes, philosophies of dress lead by figures who are either flatly representative of their market or demonstrate the grace and dexterity of an artist who adapts to time and place, finding new modes of communication to reach their viewership.
In short, couture season is not too far off from the world in which we find ourselves.