Couture Continues to be Relevant

Pierre_Balmain_and_Ruth_Ford,_photographed_by_Carl_Van_Vechten,_November_9,_1947

Couture has been important in fashion since the early 18th century, when Marie Antoinette’s designer Rose Bertin popularized this practice of creating high-end, custom pieces. As it became more popular, France created specific rules dictating what is truly haute couture, even including law protection and a regulating commission. This system still exists, with few meeting conditions for said commission. However, more recently this term has even been used in France for collections and fashion houses that do not quite fit, as well as a general term for higher-end fashion worldwide. While past couture was created for the wealthy much like a monarch would commission paintings for their palace, many designers now create collections simply for show. Their main purpose is showcasing creators’ talent and more extreme fashion masterpieces.

Over time most fashion powerhouses have switched their focus towards ready-to-wear lines. These are more affordable and usually mass-produced, although designers may decided to make their collections exclusive or limited. The vast majority of fashion is now in this style and ready-to-wear and haute couture each have their own respective fashion weeks. Those few still creating couture by its strict definition are top-tier European labels including Dior, Chanel, Valentino, Givenchy, and Armani. They have a small, exclusive market, but due to extravagance and involvement, each piece is profitable. The brands’ reputations ensure their success, even in an area past its prime.

Screen grab from www.chanel.com
Screen grab from http://www.chanel.com

Couture is largely inaccessible as most cannot afford it, but remains visible from its extreme, artistic nature making it a source of entertainment. Fashion weeks for couture receive large crowds and significant publicity. Interviewers on red carpets ask celebrities “who they are wearing,” with a star’s reply often being a custom work by a popular designer. Famous figures also obtain couture for special events such as weddings, attracting attention to the creator.

Some may argue ready-to-wear collections’ increasing popularity means ultra-exclusive couture is irrelevant. This makes sense from some perspectives, as mass-produced lines reach a wider audience, thus resulting in more purchases and a bigger following. However, while a valuable component, ready-to-wear will never completely dominate the style world. The sheer price of couture keeps it alive, as does the aforementioned publicity and fascination.
Couture is an art, and fashion simply would not be the same without it. This area allows designers to challenge themselves, dispalying the true extent of their creativity. Since even those who cannot afford these fashions admire them, couture clearly has a valuable place in the style world and demands to be noticed. Ready-to-wear has the edge in quantity, but couture has an advantage in quality. Also, as it has been in France’s culture for centuries, it would be strange and possibly disrespectful to stop valuing haute couture as relevant. Many French designers still value this area of fashion and strictly adhere to official rules. Ignoring its importance would be turning a blind eye to a long tradition that continues to have both a market and an audience. These exclusive collections are sure to stay influential and popular for generations to come.

Ali Webb is a Staff Writer. Email her at violetvision@nyunews.com.

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