Each year in January and July, the entire fashion industry comes to a halt – everywhere but Paris. Editors, Journalists, Photographers, socialites and other lucrative members of society flock to the city of love to catch the first glimpse at the most revered collections of the season, haute couture. A lot of people are befuddled as to what haute couture week means and entails and rightly so – what sets it apart from prêt-à-porter (ready-to-wear), resort or pre-fall? Here’s a little bit of haute couture 101:
- It’s expensive - unbelievably so. Daywear starts from $10,000 and gowns end at several hundred thousand dollars. Couture is so lucrative that most celebrities loan their dresses for the red carpet as opposed to buying them.
- It’s exclusive – sources report that there are no more than 4,000 couture customers in the world, predominantly from the Middle East, China and Russia.
- It’s protected by the law – seriously. The law protects the practice of haute couture from piracy and controls when collections are shown, how many models are represented, taxation and all the other boring intricacies behind the scenes.
There are also only a handful of designers who qualify to show at Paris during haute couture fashion week and when revenue is an issue, fashion houses have been relegated purely to the business of manufacturing ready-to-wear. It’s cutthroat, overtly extravagant and explicitly high-brow. So what makes it the most coveted event in the industry?
It’s the rich tradition, the craftsmanship of the ateliers and the excitable buzz of the elite. Over the past few years, discussions about the future of haute couture have been dubious as designers have abandoned tradition to cater to modern audiences, toying with new silhouettes and incorporating pop culture references through detail and elaborate set designs. This season unveiled some of the most promising collections shown over the past few seasons, with perfectly executed shapes, rich colours and embellishment.
Chanel’s set designs are always spectacular. Remember the supermarket set-up from last ready-to-wear season? This time Karl Lagerfeld took a more subdued approach; the runway was reminiscent of the baroque if it weren’t for the digital fireplace licking flames at the helm of the runway. The focus was more on the collection itself, which boasts an enormous 71 looks. Colours were chalk white, charcoal, beiges and golds and the silhouettes were modern but still in touch with the Chanel aesthetic. I usually feel a little nauseated after watching a Chanel show after the flurry of colours and clashing prints but this collection embodies everything the French fashion house represented under the rule of Mademoiselle Coco herself.
I always think of Dior as the sweetheart of the fashion industry. Each collection is always overtly feminine and recollective of different eras of womenswear. As creative director, Raf Simons focuses firmly on the future and consistently punctuates each collection with modern shapes, detail and prints. This season appeared reminiscent of the 18th century dress: simple at the waist and then flowing and voluminous at the skirt, only this time without the bulk of fabric. Daywear took an entirely different turn featuring heavily structured suits with sharp cuts.
Italian-born fashion house Valentino has taken up residency in Paris and always deliver collections that are completely romantic and evocative of an era or theme – a narrative. This season saw remnants of ancient Rome with gladiator sandals and fluid dresses structured on modern interpretations of the toga. Dresses features black prints that might be found on pottery ruins with hints of gold. Creative directors Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Picciol embarked on a bold new trajectory as well, steering away from the classical, refined (dare I say conservative?) silhouettes and fabrics adorned on the runway and peppered more provocative designs throughout the collection.
Other notable highlights of the haute couture AW14 cycle include Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst walking for Jean Paul Gaultier and Maison Martin Margiela sending patchwork quilts down the runway disguised as eveningwear.
(Images via Style.com, Dazed Digital)