Wearable isn’t usually a word associated with Paris Haute Couture but the latest collections had many venerable designers walking decidedly wearable Runway looks.
Paris Haute Couture 2012
Long seen as the most fantastical, artistic and elite arm of the fashion industry, couture seems like it may be succumbing to the ready-to-wear beast. This may be good news for fashionistas but what does it mean for couturiers? We have to ask: is this the end of Paris Haute Couture?
One of the men behind all the stir is Dior’s new headliner Raf Simons who acknowledged that his inaugural presentation strived to “change the psychology of people who are interested in couture,”* with a set of cerebrally vintage looks. He has advocated a re-focusing on the craft of clothes-making, bringing the craft itself into his creative vision. And the simple, wearable outputs of that vision may well help to broaden the spectrum of women who relate to the collection. With couture’s focus on exclusivity this expansion of target audience is a welcome contradiction to some, an outright abomination to others.
Devil in Detail
If, like Raf, you remember that exceptional craftsmanship is central to the definition of couture, then just because something is clean, not overly eccentric and easy to imagine wearing doesn’t mean it’s not haute. New York Times critic Cathy Horyn illustrates this principle in her review of a textural trompe l’oeil at Chanel, where a shimmering woven plaid dress is revealed to be embroidery ghosting as knit. This kind of “inside joke”** based on intricately hand-worked details and understood by precious few may just be the new form of couture.
Quality and intricacy are taking the reins from eccentricity as the new hallmarks of couture.
And using this standard, it’s not just the relaxing of couture to be wary of, but also the fancy-ing up of ready-to-wear. Take Sarah Burton’s exquisite and ethereal creations for Alexander McQueen, Elie Saab’s ever present bead and sequin constructions, the abstract art of Haider Ackermann and the made-to-order business of many RTW staples like Versace. Couture-like design is popping up all over Fashion Week runways as ‘regular’ designers strive to bring that unique touch of luxury and quality to their everyday wear.
In this brave world of fast fashion, copycat retailers and an un-shockable pop culture, quality and intricacy are taking the reins from eccentricity as the new hallmarks of couture. And some are seeing this fusion, “blurring the line between couture and high-end ready-to-wear,”*** as one possible key to reviving the downtrodden high fashion industry. Horyn even suggests couture might be more important now than ever, serving as fashion’s own little think tank.**
So while Paris Haute Couture isn’t dead, it is starting to evolve from its perceived abstract and unattainable roots. But fashion elitists everywhere can rest assured: while more accessible styles will appeal to more fashion-conscious women, their limited production runs and exorbitant price tags will ensure couture stays just as exclusive as ever.
Runway image from elle.com, cover image by Anton Oparin / Shutterstock.com , *“Raf Irreverant: The Designer on His Dior Debut”, www.Style.com StyleFile blog, July 2, 2012 www.style.com/stylefile/2012/07/raf-irreverent-the-designer-on-his-dior-debut/ ** ”A Sensibility Worth Every Penny”, Cathy Horyn, The New York Times, July 6, 2012 www.nytimes.com/2012/07/08/fashion/couture-is-fun-but-not-for-all.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all ***“The World of Couture is Growing”, Suzy Menkes, The New York Times, July 1, 2012 www.nytimes.com/2012/07/02/fashion/the-world-of-couture-is-growing.html?_r=1