Haute couture is regularly described as a flight of fancy, those twice-yearly lavish spectacles of ball gowns aimed at ultra high net worth individuals who don’t bat an eyelid to purchase dresses the equivalent of a small urban apartment.
So far so true. The painstaking time it requires to make a couture item, some gowns can demand up to 2,000 hours of handwork, coupled with soaring expense - those hours most be paid for - as does the show - is not a recipe for high margin or high volume driven fashion businesses.
This is one of the reasons the haute couture schedule no longer has the density of designers of ready-to-wear. Membership to its network remains relatively low, with just 15 members in France (Chanel, Maison Dior, Givenchy, etc.) 7 correspondent members (Giorgio Armani, Fendi, Valentino, etc.) and 15 guest members (Ronald van der Kemp, Ralph & Russo, Xuan, etc.) Compared to the near impenetrable fashion week schedule of 76 shows and 29 presentations on the Paris ready-to-wear calendar, and couture week is but a breeze.
Except that the couture breeze determines the direction of fashion’s wind. Insofar, haute couture is the ultimate creative ground for designers to show their exquisite craftsmanship and expertise without being restricted by budget, by time and by commerciality. And it just so happens there are plenty of customers in the market for high fashion, with an estimate of 4,000 global couture buyers and 200 seasonable buyers, willing to pay for that expertise. To put that into perspective, a Dior wedding dress, according to Reuters, can fetch up to 1 million dollars.
For these customers, some of whom have busy social calendars including 15-20 weddings per year and a chock-full monthly party and event timetable, wearing the same outfit twice is not an option. Neither is being in the room with a guest wearing the same print or dress. This is where couture blossoms and becomes viable.
Haute couture is fashion's ecosystem
According to the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCM) couture lies at the heart of fashion’s ecosystem. The craft is a permanent gateway between tradition for excellence in know-how and modern creation which embodies the manufacturing techniques that are at the cutting edge of innovation.
Couture is a laboratory of ideas, techniques
Couture’s primary field of interest lies in the accomplished handwork of its members and Maisons, remaining a laboratory for ideas and techniques, a space where creativity can flourish freely. Its influence reaches far and wide not solely for the wealthy few who purchase it, but for those seek fashion without contraints.
And for the privileged few, there is the possibility to purchase, which comes with the guarantee of uniqueness and customization crafted to fit your measurements. In fashion, that's as good as it gets.
Image credit: Ronald van der Kemp AW19 couture by Marijke Aerden