Haute Couture: The Wearable Art
Do you think that ladies in your family shop too much? Oh darling, please. I justified my shopaholic habits when Kevin Kwan himself said his best-selling novel “Crazy Rich Asians” was based ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY PERCENT on REALITY!
Don’t come at me when I say outfits in Emily in Paris is faux pas when compared to what is in the couture industry. ‘Haute couture’, this term conjures up images of intricately beaded and feathered garments on elegant models strutting down runways. This is the epitome of high fashion and French sophistication. It extends beyond simple dress and into something intangible, somehow inaccessible, and above average. Couture is special because it celebrates the highest level of craftsmanship and creativity. We are talking about dresses that start in the tens of thousands and go up to the millions and only about 2000 women in the world can afford to dress this way. There are only about 15 haute couture designers in the world because the standards are so high. Each one of them is personally appointed by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. So, those who buy them are literally buying a piece of history.
The ‘couture week’ in Paris is the crème de la crème of the industry and that’s in part due to very valid reasons. The place of origin of this wearable art is Paris (anyone would know that after they try to pronounce Haute Couture and gives up) by an Englishman. This trend came into being in the second half of the nineteenth century, during a time entrenched by rapid social and economic change. Post-revolutionary politics had upsurged to a point where class lines were inexplicably blurred. The bourgeoisie was growing, spending their newfound wealth on leisure.
This dream of beauty and luxury is part of haute couture’s aesthetic appeal, but behind the glamour is an economic windfall. These garments are expensive to make, sometimes ridiculously so, requiring thousands of hours of intricate, tedious handiwork by craftspeople. What is more is that the end result is often not for sale. The pieces that are available for purchase can range into six figures, making them intended exclusively for the wealthy elite. Haute couture is a spectacle with the purpose of drawing attention rather than driving revenue.
Today, celebrity endorsement is still valuable but what’s even more valuable is a runway show at Paris Fashion Week drawing hordes of photographers, celebrities, fashion industry professionals, business moguls, journalists, and bloggers, many of whom will take the invaluable smartphone snap and post on the internet. Now instead of one socialite wearing a piece in a crowd of eager attendees, we have the phenomenon of the socialite posted to the Internet a hundred times over, discussed and dissected, allowing the brand an infinite number of impressions. Press coverage and traditional media buzz over a truly stunning, shocking, or unconventional couture show make the runway not a platform for selling clothes, but a platform for selling image and reputation. The clothes themselves will never be worn but the photos of them on the Internet may be circulated infinitely, knowledge of the brand reaching far beyond Paris and the world of fashion in an echo that builds the brand one click at a time. The digital turn has made the snapshot of a couture gown worth far more than the actual garment. Social media is today’s great equalizer, the democratizing factor allowing the average citizen to climb the social ladder and gain clout in the digital social world through the persona of a fashion blogger.
Arguably, our virtual selves and what we choose to associate with are becoming more significant than our physical presence. Couture survives through with the same principles.
But what is the social status we keep talking about? Is all the time, money, and effort we put into making this couture worth it all on a bigger scenario? As much as some of us keep talking about sustainability, the world of fashion has become a vicious circle where all the members feed off each other and help each other out by trying to make the customer spend as much as he/she can. The perfect dress requires the best shoes and the best accessories and the perfect make up to go with it. We all just feed the industry step by step.
How is it any different than what happened in the French revolution? King Louis XIV of France too wore diamonds on his clothes. And think about it this way, for far is one of the Kardashians or the Jenners from saying “Let them eat cake?”.
– Rtr. Gethmi Adikari
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