The relevance of couture
It is reasonable to ponder the position of couture when the fashion industry has been so dramatically disrupted in the past year, and with the economic uncertainty that lies ahead. A growth in sportswear and casual dress and an emerging younger market challenges the couture designer to be relevant whilst retaining the traditions of the house, however I believe there will always be an appetite for handmade luxury and the finest craftsmanship. The ateliers and the thousands of hours behind every piece has championed meticulous hand-skills, deeply rooted in French heritage. These craftspeople are devoted to the fine art of embroidery, button making, pleating, costume jewellery – for Chanel, Dior, Givenchy. Chanel acquired a group of specialist workshops, originally founded in the 19th century - to save them from extinction and preserve artisan craft. Today they buzz with young workers hand-painting feathers or cutting shapes out of hand-dyed silk, and archives of rare beads, sequins, crystals and so on are painstakingly organised. It is almost impossible to contemplate a time without this heritage, yet we need not think of couture as confined to hand-stitched evening gowns either. It is an opportune moment for couture to explore the needs of the modern customer, most probably lounging in sweatpants along with the rest of the world, looking for rare but relevant.
Embroidery from Lesage Ateliers for Chanel; Lace dress adorned with 1150 leather farfalle flowers and 1000 beads
Who is reinventing couture?
Younger customers who seek the very best are willing to experiment with brands that offer a redefined version of couture. At Maison Schiparelli’s recent S/S’21 show, Daniel Roseberry sought to ‘challenge the idea of what couture is, and should be, by making clothes that respect the tradition of the maison but also the artistry behind it, whilst at the same time exploding the cliches associated with the genre.’ He believes that couture is still a celebration of delicate embroidery, voluminous silk and ‘as pretty as a fairytale’. In 2020 their pendant-covered designs went viral on instagram, showing the power of social media in reaching a wider, younger audience.
Schiaparelli S/S 21
The genre is also collaborating with artists and testing new technology such as 3D printing. Actress Joey King wore a sculptural 3D-printed dress from Iris Van Herpen for the Golden Globes. 3D print allows a variety of material properties to be printed in a single process allowing for textures of hard and soft in one design. ‘We were not only able to design the garment’s form but also its motion’, allowing them ‘to reinterpret the tradition of couture as “tech-couture” where delicate needlework is replaced with code’. This will surely inspire the next generation of couture designers.
Joey King wears 3D dress from Iris Van Herpen
Some couture houses are already responding to younger, modern demands. More separates and daywear pieces compliment evening gowns and occasion wear to offer versatility, though some critics feel they sit too close to the Ready-to-Wear collections. The ‘casual’ influence is infiltrating some collections; in 2020 Sacaifounder, Abe was announced as the first ‘guest’ designer to take over at Jean Paul Gaultier (who himself promised that Haute Couture would continue with a new concept. Sacia’s collab with Nike on the Vaporwaffle sneaker is an elevated version of the design with stitch detail and various embellishments, ahead of his forthcoming debut this year. Fendi have refreshed their look with Kim Jones; her hotly anticipated modern take on Italian glamour saw Kate Moss and daughter Lila take to the catwalk recently, showcasing modern couture as multi-generational.
Vapour waffle sneaker by Abe de Sacai x Nike
Kate Moss and daughter Lila, Fendi S/S’21
Victor & Rolf’s S/S ’17 collection Boulevard of Broken Dreams was a celebration of upcycling their vintage dresses dating back to the 40s, with repairs emphasized in gold and ‘Beauty arising from imperfection’. This celebrates the extended lifespan of couture – how it endures and the playful potential it offers for the next life. Do repair and repurpose have a place in modern couture?
Victor & Rolf Boulevard of Broken Dreams
Digital fashion is playing an increasingly important role in luxury and the recent collaboration between the Institute of Digital Fashion and the August Getty Atelier ‘Tinitus’ holds onto traditional couture through interpreting Atelier’s muslin patterns and then championing innovation and technology to work through the pattern layers and recreate a 3D digital image, by positioning drape, size and animation. The project was built over live Zoom calls piece-by-piece.
Digital couture; IoDF X August Getty Atelier, ‘21
Couture has been hailed as the epitome of garment making – which goes a long way in supporting its relevance today. My hope is that tradition will coexist with innovation to ensure its survival. The fashion industry no longer relies on couture to create trends, however it fulfils a demand for the unique, hand-made and custom-fitted piece at its very finest, which transcends generations. It can never be mass-produced and the resurgence in appreciation for true craftsmanship I believe, secures its place in our future if it allows for a new paradigm of clientele.