Fashion nowadays isn't so much about selling dreams or creativity, it's about shifting product. Just look at behemoths like Amazon and Yoox Net-a-Porter, who apply their customer data and sales analytics to inform their private label collections, which they design not out of love for the craft, but to increase the bottom line.
So if at one end of the fashion spectrum we have retail's private labels, contrived to achieve higher margins, fill in retail gaps and is 'designed' to sell, at the other end we have haute couture: the pinnacle of fashion dreams and fantasy, artistry and craft without limitations. And certainly not based on data analytics.
Couture is thriving
While many have been quick to lament the imminent death of couture, nothing could be further from the truth. No longer on the endangered species list, haute couture is alive and well and appealing to an entirely new generation of clients. It is no longer solely for the aristocratic or old-moneyed mademoiselles and mesdames, even if the cost of buying lies only within reach of a wealthy minority.
For anyone following the shows, the couture calendar is having a renaissance of sorts, with established houses including Balmain, Givenchy and reportedly Celine all returning to their haute couture roots. The Chambre Syndicale de la haute couture sets strict criteria for its classifications of couture, counting just 14 members alongside a host of guest designers each season.
Of course there are very few individuals who can afford this level of luxury. While most houses shy away from publishing their prices, a gown from the Valentino runway, for example, can easily cost 80,000 pounds, and that is likely not one with elaborate embroidery or beading.
But costs aside, haute couture is the only fashion week where true artistry and craft are allowed to shine without the constraints of commercialism. Where else can you see clothes that require hundreds of hours and painstaking detail to be made? Whereas ready-to-wear collections are so easily copied by the high street, they are designed to be made in factories in high volumes, not by seamstresses and ateliers, where it can takes days or even weeks to finish a single garment.
But haute couture is not only relevant because of creative possibilities. It is a celebration of skills and craft that must be honed, sustained and kept alive. Haute couture, and ateliers at large, employ thousands of specialists, tailors, craftsman and seamstresses, who are skilled at techniques that would otherwise be a dying art form. Who then would make the beads, feathers, hats and gowns that allow us to dream?
Photo credit: Chanel haute couture, source Chanel website