“For years couture was considered a lost leader, a lavish marketing exercise designed to sell lipsticks and perfume, and its dwindling clientele seemed ever more irrelevant," fashion editor Claudia Croft of The Sunday Times newspaper observed last year. "But the spending power of the new superrich is changing all that and bringing the client sharply back into focus.” Meaning: the usual suspects hailing from the Middle East, but also a new breed of well-heeled fashionistas from Brazil, Russian and China - three of the so-called BRIC countries & breeding ground (so to speak) of future growth. "In fact this new breed of couture buyer is so wealthy," observes Harriet Bow of The Industry London, "their spare change buys up to 30 dresses at a time, fueling a boom unprecedented in couture since the 1950s."
In a world where paying six figures for a frock is no biggie, that many couture dresses at a time is a whole lotta spare change. And who exactly is doing the buying?
When you see a light and airy youthfulness at Christian Dior and sneakers - sneakers! - on the Chanel couture runway, it's obvious change is afoot (so to speak). In fact, Karl Lagerfeld's theme for the maison's Fall 2013 couture collection was, interestingly enough, about being en route "from the Old World to the New World," as he explained post-show, "and fashion is the only way to make the trip."
And the journey has the world of couture branching in two directions: First, the old and the obvous - those costume'y, tulle- and silk-meringues that are sugary sweet enough to give a gal a serious tooth ache. The second path is being trod by younger and zippier fashionistas don't have the desire to dress for some modern version of the attire sported by the court of the Sun King. Rather, they want really beautifully made clothes that are more elevated than "commonplace" prêt-à-porter but comfortable for the speed of life today - and that look cute with flats, like sneakers. (Granted, the Chanel ones were crafted in their Massaro atelier from python, with lace, pearls, and tweed and priced around €3,000, but still, they're sneakers.)
While couture does keep the artisanal side of fashion relevant and alive, I'm not sure how influential it really is anymore. Rather, now it's more a reflection of the zeitgeist, particularly a type of outfit that is showing up in more couture collections that is definitely dressier than daywear, too funky to fit the typical mold of eveningwear and defintely not red carpet. I'm calling it Playwear (the looks at the very top) for off-the-clock activities requiring more panache than a boring old cocktail dress and certainly more bling than a work suit or jeans. I can't help but wonder if it is indicative of an ongoing cosplaying of real life.
And certainly designers like Hussein Chalayan are helping to keep couture from becoming a fossil. "It shouldn't be about revisiting the archives," he explained about the demi-couture collection he created for Vionnet (above, far left), a house originally founded in the 1912. Sure, some looks were more successful that others, but the overall feel was fresh and included risks rather than just look after look after look of dramatic old-school G-O-W-N.
Another sign the old is out and the relevant in was Bouchra Jarrar (above, far right) finally being accepted by the Chambre Syndicale as an official member of the Haute Couture, just like her sartorial sisters Chanel, Schiaparelli, Vionnet and Madame Grès. Women like Jarrar understand how modern women want to dress and the fact they dream about things like trousers than fit and flatter. Which is her specialty. To say nothing of how chic they look with flats and sneakers.
Here is the podcast I recorded about couture & the Supremium fashion tribe - be sure to let me know on Facebook what you think!
Music: Kevin MacLeod, Incompetech.com
- Lesley Scott
(runway images via style.com)