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).