After a recent private visit organized by INSPIRELLE to admire the inner-most workings of the Haute Couture collection of China’s most renown fashion designer, Guo Pei, I began to wonder what Haute Couture really means to me as a fashion writer. What do these painstakingly finely-crafted and over-the-top expensive garments mean to others in the industry, or to those who only envy them in magazines?
What Makes Haute Couture Special?
While women’s ready-to-wear week is the most critiqued, and men’s ready-to-wear takes a back seat, Haute Couture week is arguably the most infamous of all the fashion weeks. Twice a year, the world’s top fashion designers can showcase their most creative pieces. Regarded more as chef d’oeuvres, these garments neither need to function nor be practical, but the amount of work put into them is gargantuan. Upon seeing Guo Pei’s collection up close, I could really appreciate the form and the intensity of the intricate embellishments, embroidery and beading, as well as the innovative materials used to create the pieces. Her latest collection, known as “Legend”, took her two years to create.
As well as being a fashion writer, I am also a freelance fashion designer for many different types of brands. However, upon looking at her work, the question that kept coming back to me, piece after piece was, how does her inspiration take root and grow? As a designer, you can have the most amazing ideas for a collection, but unless you know the strengths and weaknesses of the fabrics you’re using, how they work together and what they can and cannot do, the ideas are fruitless. When it comes to Haute Couture, this is when fabric properties matter most.
Why is Paris the fashion capital?
Paris is steeped in fashion history, something which the other three capitals, London, New York and Milan, simply don’t have on the same scale. London might have its youth and cutting-edge vibe, New York its chic sportswear and Milan its luxury and craftsmanship, but Paris has its roots in style and design. Therefore, it’s no wonder Paris is the only capital to host couture week; Paris is synonymous with couture. Each fashion week has its own charm and its own place in the industry but it’s Paris Fashion Week that culminates the season and is the one everyone lusts to go to. Paris Fashion Week attracts the most industry people and is the hardest nut to crack if you want to spectate – and even harder if you want to participate.
So what is Haute Couture really?
If Haute Couture pieces can’t be worn easily, seem impractical and are one-of-a-kind, why do designers make a Couture collection at all? The answer lies in the statistics. Statistically, a brand that carries a Couture, Ready-to-Wear and an Accessories line (including perfume), the business will make most of its profit from, you’ve guessed it, accessories. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as even the most fashion illiterate of us, often have a bottle of Dolce & Gabbana or Chanel No.5 in the house. Designer bags, sunglasses and perfume make up the majority of the profits, whilst ready-to-wear brings in the rest. Haute Couture brings in, not very much at all.
The reason Haute Couture still exists and remains so important to designers is because it is a reflection of their creativity at its best. They don’t have many rules to follow or trends to stick to because it’s for them and the client only.
That might sound harsh, and it would be unrealistic to assume every designer is the same. But, overall, Haute Couture is simply expressing what is inside the designer and the collection often sets the tone for their ready-to-wear lines or their made-to-measure collections.
Personally, I think you can tell more about a designer from their Haute Couture collection than you can from a ready-to-wear line. Liberated from the shackles of restraint and practicality, they are free to do as they please, allowing for a more innovative and creative collection.
Many people who don’t follow fashion would regard Haute Couture as folly, with criticisms about who could wear it and where. Unfortunately, they have missed the point.
In the same way that a movie contains an artfully put together soundtrack, mood-reflecting weather and often a stylized backdrop of a city; Haute Couture isn’t real, but it’s not supposed to be.