What You Need to Know About Couture

A brief history of high fashion.
Image: Giambattista Valli Couture Spring 2016 via @missfashionablebaby
 
Paris Couture Week is officially here!  This week, elite designers like Valentino and Giambattista Valli will take their most exclusive, intricate, and expensive designs down the catwalk. Its clients include wealthy aristocrats, artists, and celebrities - in essence, those who have the resources to buy the world’s most expensive clothing. Designers use the handmade in Paris collections to gracefully tell stories in the form of wearable art and make their mark at the top of the fashion food chain. No expense is spared. 

However, haute couture has been on the decline in recent years due to competition with mass production (fast fashion) and its defining inaccessibility.  According to a BBC documentary, couture employed an average of 46 000 people in the late 20th century, but as of 2007, the number has dropped to a dismal 4500.  More evidence of couture’s weakening is the long list of well-known houses who have abandonned the art; Balenciaga, Christian Lacroix, Lanvin, Nina Ricci, Saint Laurent, among many others, no longer produce couture collections.

The main cause of couture’s dissolution is the rise of Ready-to-Wear, and even high street retailers. Mass production has become the norm for fashion today; it's cheaper and way faster. Consequently, there are currently very few ateliers left in Paris today. Couture houses, such as Chanel, try to support ateliers and artisans alike in order to keep the art alive; it can be said that mass-production focuses so much on meeting sales quotas that eventually, creative vision is sacrificed. On the flip-side, couture is about the beauty of a fashion designer’s creativity and the skills of their team. The downside: couture prices are simply out of reach—some pieces can start at 20,000 € and many others extend to six figures.  As a result, very few can afford to splurge on couture, and even those who can may not see the value when offered less expensive Ready-to-Wear alternatives.

Although these are all strong justifications for the collapse of haute couture, others believe that it is a matter of creative restriction. Daphne Guinness, renowned couture client and heir of Arthur Guinness (the inventor of the famous beer), has previously said that couture is dying due to the drought of skills and manpower available to produce it. In my opinion, this also touches on the immense time pressures put on designers in today's industry (see: Raf Simons' exit from Dior.) In summary, business-driven corporate structures put a cap on a designer’s ability to think outside of the box and truly flex their creative muscles.  Production teams are swamped with pressure to complete as many as eleven full collections in a single year.

As of today however, things seem to be looking up for couture. In 2014, Chanel reported that sales for its Spring collection rose by 20%, and Valentino is currently projecting a growth of 30-35% for their couture department.  In the age of social media, when fashion followers are drowning in pictures of the same Stella McCartney creepers or Dior sunglasses, couture is distinctive. Celebrities have started to acquire these pieces more; it sets them apart, and it's a red carpet staple! More good news? The Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture has recently announced that new guest members will present collections at this week's event, including Yacine Aouadi and Guo Pei (think Rihanna's golden Met Ball cape.)

Personally, I do not feel that couture will die... as long as there are costumers willing to pay for six-figure garments! 
Thanks to social media and a revived appreciation for artistry, haute couture is recovering from a long-time crisis, but even so, things will never be the same.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
WHO: Ian Cavazos, Junior News Editor at Couturesque magazine
WHERE: Monterrey, MX
OBSESSED WITH: Etro Fall 2016 Menswear
CAN BE FOUND AT: @iancavazos on Instagram

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I founded Couturesque Magazine when I was 15 years old because like many of my peers, I felt ignored and talked down to by all of the other teen fashion publications out there. I figured that at the end of the day, the people who knew the most about my generation, were the people who belonged to it. The fashion industry is becoming increasingly dependent on the creativity of younger voices who challenge the status quo and make us rethink what we wear and why we wear it. And that is exactly what Couturesque set out to celebrate - authenticity, intelligence, originality, and diversity... in other words, what makes Gen-Z tick. Fast-forward to 2016 and we now have a staff of more than a dozen fashion distruptors contributing to our daily content from all around the globe, 100K+ readers following us from Toronto to New York, to London, Copenhagen, Berlin, Tokyo, and Tel Aviv, and a plethora of big-wig industry fans and collaborators. But what matters to us the most is the responsibility that our publication has to make a positive impact in the lives of those who come across it - we stand against retouching our photoshoots and we stand for sharing the beautiful, individual, complex voices of everyone, especially those who feel marginalized by mainstream fashion media. We hope that you love our site as much as we do and that you take the time to follow us (Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Pinterest / Tumblr / Snapchat / YouTube) throughout our journey to make fashion accessible to the powerful young adults of today.

xo,
Tia Elisabeth Glista
Editor in Chief