Couture has symbolized the triumph of artistry and fashion for more than a century. It is the combination of fashion — the modern entity that blends novelty and synergy with personal and societal demands — and craftsmanship — the skills of dressmaking, tailoring, and crafts that comprise clothes and accessories. With just 4,000 clients globally and an exclusive number of industry tickets for runway shows, the profession might appear completely fantastical and out of reach.
In reality, couture is a closely controlled, invite-only application administered by Paris’ Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCM), which has a huge effect on the fashion industry as a whole. Despite being the most lavish, glamorous, and expensive kind of fashion, haute couture has experienced a fast drop in popularity during the previous seventy years.
Interest in “Couture” has consistently fallen by 13% in 2021 alone (according to Google Search data). In reality, just four of the top ten “Haute Couture” search inquiries are for genuine collections: Chanel, Dior, Fendi, and Valentino. The concept of “glamour” has surely changed alongside modernity. Whereas elegance and luxury were formerly synonymous with dresses handcrafted and embroidered with hundreds of pearls, luxury may now be found in the shape of t-shirts, sneakers, and laughably little purses.
Instead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a handmade item, buyers may live the luxury dream with a $400 t-shirt. So, where does haute couture place in today’s contemporary, technologically advanced, and inclusively prioritized fashion landscape?
The Not-So-Humble Beginnings Of Haute Couture Fashion
Image: CoBo Social
While the term is tossed about a lot, the term haute couture has been used since the late 17th century. The link between aristocratic and upper-class ladies and their personal dressmakers grew as France became identified with beautifully manufactured and creative luxury silk textiles, and so did the haute couture system. The FHCM, which was founded in 1868, upholds the high standards of French fashion culture by presiding over Paris Women’s and Men’s Fashion Weeks, as well as supporting and fostering designers that display the degree of workmanship necessary to appear on the official Haute Couture calendar.
Members are now chosen by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. Members must design made-to-order clothing for private clients, with more than one fitting, in an atelier with at least fifteen full-time employees to qualify as an official Haute Couture firm. In addition, one of their workplaces must have twenty full-time technical personnel.
Couture’s aristocratic allure stems from its exclusivity. It is a unique moment filled with strange traditions. The outfits are jewel-like masterpieces designated for an elite clique of ladies whose names the maisons keep rigorously hidden. Its purchase procedure is cloaked in secret showings, with just a small circle of people permitted to take a seat and gaze at the gorgeous masterpieces. Couture is as traditional as it gets in a world that is more digital and manufactured — and hence infinitely repeatable.
However, in today’s fast-paced, fast-fashion world, when only a small proportion of the population can afford Haute Couture, its steady collapse was inevitable. When this is combined with the emergence of independent designers and the growing respect for more independent and exclusive designers, haute couture is on the verge of becoming the next major fashion faux pas.
The Modernisation Of Haute Couture Fashion
Image: Ralph & Russo
Couture isn’t democratic, and it’s proud of it. It has scarcely been touched by the frenzy of visibility that has made fashion the religion of our day. Couture is built on ideals that are completely out of date, and in a world that moves quickly, it is exceedingly sluggish. While the rest of the world embraces a flexible and ever-changing visual language, couture honors established customs, traditions, and firmly defined gender distinctions. In this sense, couture will never be really contemporary.
However, in recent seasons, we’ve seen designers embrace modernism and redefine couture. “Markets, trends, and clientele, as well as their purchasing habits, are continuously altering,” explains Tamara Ralph, designer of the couture company Ralph & Russo. “Over the years, we’ve seen new markets take an interest in couture, as well as younger generations.” There has been a significant increase in respect for great workmanship among people of all ages and backgrounds.” She continues. In 2018, a spokeswoman from couture label Maisonn Rabih Kayrouz told Vogue France that their millennial audience now accounts for a quarter of the company’s revenue.
In 2022, the craft is no longer limited to stunning hand-stitched gowns adorned with handmade sequins. Though costs remain prohibitively expensive for many, today’s haute couture designers are appealing to a younger plugged-in generation by adopting more youthful designs and appreciating the effect that detailed couture work can have on Instagram. Schiaparelli’s pendant-covered Spring 2020 designs, for example, have gone viral. By the same token, Iris Van Herpen‘s mesmerizing, nature-inspired fashions have captivated a new generation of celebrities. Her distinct style dominated the 2022 Met Gala by custom creating items for Björk, Teyana Taylor, and Winnie Harlow.
And, as designers seek to appeal to a new generation of customers, they’ve moved away from dresses and toward less formal styles that emphasize creative meaning with methods to combine legacy and originality. The fusion of Demna’s harsh yet poetic sensibility and the sculptural and severe codes set by Cristobal Balenciaga in the recent Fall 2022 Haute Couture shows offers us a glimpse of what modern couture means, while at Schiaparelli, designer Daniel Roseberry fused heritage and creativity through his own insouciant fixation for breasts and nipples with plenty of iconic references from Christian Lacroix and Jean Paul Gaultier.
Aside from design alterations driven by consumer demand, designers are modernizing this specialized fashion sector by incorporating elements of technology and art. We begin to consider haute couture as an art form and a method for designers to express themselves and their underlying ideas. Maria Grazia Chiuri, the creative director of Dior, addressed the current time by drawing inspiration from the work of Olesia Trofymenko, a Ukrainian artist whose favorite theme, the Tree Of Life, is a traditional emblem of humanist optimism in cultures all over the world.
Another example is Dior’s Spring 2020 couture collection, which was created in collaboration with the iconic female artist Judy Chicago. The exhibition included an immersive area with banners bearing questions based on the program’s idea, “What If Women Ruled The World?”
Couture’s gift of distinction in design and craftsmanship remains a powerful force, one that has become even more effective while much other excellence has waned. It remains an unexplained discipline of extreme imagination, with the contradiction of being the fashion most aware of its ideal clientele. It began as a quality aspiration in an era of industry and its succession. Haute couture continues to provide us with a model of the most beautiful apparel that can be imagined and manufactured at any moment, and it is an industry that will only grow in the future.