Couture’s New Reality


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Couture’s New Reality

Has the dream of couture fashion been traded for Instagrammable sets, star-studded front rows, and reality?



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The Spring 2016 haute couture collections wrapped up just a few days ago, and with the New York ready-to-wear shows moments away, we at Fashion Unfiltered figured that now was a good time to take stock.

This was the season of couture’s “new reality.” Dior called it out as such in its show notes, which made the case for rethinking what the contemporary client really needs to make her wardrobe work. More daywear, for example, an idea that Raf Simons had advanced—successfully—during his tenure.

But whether you’re sitting in the audience or watching online, if a house’s collection looks like elevated ready-to-wear, then what, exactly, is the point? To be fair, in Dior’s case, six designers in its fabled atelier had just over two months to put together a collection without the benefit of a leader, knowing full well they were a stopgap solution. Hardly a space where creativity can run free. 

For everyone who loves fashion, the true meaning of couture has nothing to do with reality at all: It’s about pure craft and emotion—that heart-stirring moment that happens when a house is at the top of its form. By that measure, this season can only be described as lackluster. Put that together with the “new reality” of high-end fashion—that Gucci, for example, sells an embellished chiffon dress priced in the low five figures—and the distinction between luxury ready-to-wear and couture all but disintegrates, at least when considered from the perspective of price and time invested.

But though many houses fell short of delivering the kind of beauty and emotion one expects from couture, the fault doesn’t lie entirely with them. 

A big part of the problem is that everyone stopped talking about the clothes. Instead, we marveled at the multimillion-dollar sets. We obsessed about who was gracing the front row. We speculated about whether looks would work on the red carpet. But the couture client generally does not live on the red carpet, and why would she want to look like she’s aping someone who does? While couture may lend itself to all these avenues of conversation, they should be the footnotes, not the headlines. 

Haute couture collections are about excellence in craft. Taken together, the Paris couture ateliers employ thousands of artisans who specialize in dozens of handcrafting techniques that survive (sometimes barely) because their sole purpose is creating beauty—and without the creative laboratory that couture offers, those métiers would be lost forever. 

No one needs a couture show to create “a look.” Save for a handful of indies, all of the houses on the couture calendar have ready-to-wear collections coming up in two weeks to make those season-defining statements. Meanwhile, in terms of the looks themselves, they’ve gone about as high-low and bare as they can go. Please. That kind of reality is overdone. No one needs it. What we do need in these difficult times is to hang onto a dream—a dream about fashion.

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