You may be aware that its currently Couture Fashion Week in Paris – when fashion’s most prestigious houses, such as Chanel and Dior, showcase their haute couture collections. Pictures are circling the web and are being in printed in newspapers and magazines, which are certainly pretty to look at. But given only 4000 of the entire global population actually buys couture (you're looking at about £10k minimum for a garment), should the majority of us who like fashion really care?
"What is Haute Couture?"
A couple of years ago I wrote a piece going into its full history (which you can read here) so I’m not going to repeat myself. But in a nutshell, to be classed as a house of couture in France, you must adhere to strict regulations set by the French ministry of industry and the Federation Francaise de la couture, and you must meet the following requirements:
create made-to-measure clothing for private clients
offer personal fittings
have a full-time workshop in Paris employing at least 20 staff
present a collection in January and July every year, including pieces for day time and formal evening wear
As a result of these rules, a garment can take over 800 hours to create, so it’s hardly surprising it is so expensive. But, despite the price tag, believe it or not, haute couture is not lucrative. The expertise and skills required, combined with the cost of the strict regulations, and the small number of customers means it is rarely profitable.
"So, then, what's the big deal?"
Haute couture itself may not bring in the big bucks, but it has a knock on effect that does. The shows are huge spectacles that now act as marketing tools to showcase the very best of the fashion house. Essentially they set the standard for what the house represents, and everything trickles down through the brand from there. Pallets, silhouettes and inspirations will influence their ready-to-wear collections, which will be seen at the normal fashion weeks. And designers who don’t do haute couture will likely be inspired by them too.
And of course, don’t forget, the pieces are often worn on the red carpet, acting as another form of vital publicity for the brand. Expect to see pieces from this couture week at the Oscars.
"But I can't afford the ready-to-wear, so does it still matter?"
As we know, you don’t have to buy luxury designer clothing to be heavily influenced by it. What is on the catwalk during Fashion Week will inspire what is in the shops. It sets the trends. But even if you’re not a hard-core trend follower, your style will almost inevitably subconsciously be affected by it due to mass availability and constant visibility (see one of my favourite scenes in the Devil Wear’s Prada). And, as highlighted above, haute couture will have had an impact on these trend-setting Fashion Week collections.
Additionally haute couture ensures the fashion house is one of the most lusted after labels – right down to their makeup and perfume line. There’s a reason why that bottle of N°5 is on your dressing table or why you j’adore Dior makeup. Sure, the products themselves are nice, but they are also a small taste of the fashion house that you wouldn’t be able to access otherwise. So you had already automatically gravitated towards the product because of what it represented – ultimate luxury.
So no, haute couture isn’t exactly something that on the surface is a big deal to most of us. It's certainly not something to invest a lot of energy into (bar the excuse to drool over gorgeous clothes). But delve a little deeper and it's worth recognising that it has more of an influence on all us style lovers lives than you may have thought.