by Alexander Fury .

Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2012: Couture chores

When did couture become a chore? That seems like the sort of wallowing self-indulgence fashion journalists often partake in - I watched the rather wonderful parody 'Sh*t Fashion Girls Say', and realised I have basically sat behind, next to and in front of that person. I have no intention of becoming them...

What I mean is: when did couture become like every other fashion week? After the last haute couture shows, I met Daphne Guinness. When I asked what she thought of the season, she sighed and exhaled 'it all felt like ready-to-wear.' With her attuned couture eye, she got to the nitty-gritty straight away. The ready-to-wear shows have shot up in prestige (and, often, the garments have shot up in price) as couture has dwindled. Taking advantage of a rather slow-paced week, fashion houses have begun to cram European presentations of their pre-collections into couture: a couple of ready-to-wear designers have even begun showing their collections during the week also. Its all added to the dilution of the true spirit of couture: hand-crafted, one-off and truly exceptional clothing. I don't just mean bead-encrusted ballgowns - Christian Dior dazzled the world with a black-and-white suit; Chanel did it with a little black dress; Balenciaga awed his audience with a silk gazar gown with a single seam. Couture isn't about decoration, it's about perfection. That's what the label 'haut couturier' attests to.

It also attests to meeting certain rules - minimum employees, an atelier in Paris. The title of 'couturier' isn't a right, its a privilege, handed out by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture Parisienne. A glance down the schedule today, however, reveals that, despite a ten or more shows a day, very few are actually fully-fledged members of the haute couture clan. You see phrases like 'membres correspondants' for couturiers not based in Paris: the Rome and Milan-based houses of Valentino and Armani, for example. Some shows are designated 'membres invités' for ready-to-wear or demi-couture labels invited to show during the week. 

Today's opening gambit - and the first show of the week - was Atelier Versace, their first on the official couture schedule since 2008. They've still been showing their hand-crafted, jewel bedazzled dresses to an elite few, however, and getting them on the backs of Hollywood a-listers. Today, a dozen frocks popped up out of a golden altar like something out of Aztec mythology. We were close enough to see the fragments of crystal flecking the silver rose-embossed skirts, but it was still a spectacle of the ilk of McQueen and Galliano's epoch-defining blockbusters at the end of the nineties. Heck, why am I meandering around all these words: it felt special. That's what couture should be about, no matter who or where the frocks are cobbled together (sorry, Donatella).


  1. ericesquire
    12:45 23 Jan 2012
    "Couture isn't about decoration, it's about perfection. That's what the label 'haut couturier' attests to." troppo the pope innocent x said of his portrait by velazquez when presented in front of him.


    |eric esquire|
  2. Catherine Ka Wai
    19:20 24 Jan 2012
    With the ready-to-wear becoming more extravagance, perhaps designers need to make couture shows more intimate, to go the opposite direction, where it feels private, exclusive, personal, and exquisite, do away with the extravagant shows instead go for the most intimate feelings in the production of the show in order to protect what couture was about.
  3. alex.fury
    14:47 30 Jan 2012
    Hi Catherine,

    I think that's an interesting idea - but in reality, the couture was transformed from fashion into spectacle a long time ago. In Alicia Drake's book 'The Beautiful Fall' she hypothesises that, by placing couture on a pedestal (namely, a raised catwalk) in his Ballets Russes collection of 1976, Yves Saint Laurent transformed couture into a spectator sport. These were clothes to sigh over, but not to wear - extravagant, inventive, but ultimately indulgent fantasies of the designer rather than a wardrobe for women. Sometimes couture works better like that - and that is kind of what the ready-to-wear designers seem to emulate.