Can Haute Couture Maintain its Relevance in the Fast Paced Fashion Industry of Today?
Studying fashion means looking at the relevance on traditional techniques compared to, and along with more modern techniques. We also look at the history of fashion and how modern technology changes fashion. So the question came up, with the fashion industry becoming more and more fast paced and consumers looking for the next new thing only moments after the latest trends have hit the streets will Haute Couture become irrelevant? Haute Couture means ‘high fashion’, it’s quality, hand-made and slow paced, but it’s a statement and has always been the highest level of the fashion hierarchy, with, traditionally, fast fashion looking to them for ideas and inspiration.
It has always been slow fashion, it makes a statement and communicates designers’ values and ideas to the world, pieces in Haute Couture are not necessarily fashion pieces that the public can relate to or consider buying; they are investment pieces, statements to the world that sometimes aren’t made to be a piece that can be worn other than on the runway. But consumers are beginning to want new, exciting pieces that can be worn to show their style and want pieces that; if are investments, can be worn over a number of seasons and even years. With this in mind the slow pace of Haute Couture may lose significance in the fashion industry due to the ever-changing fashion industry of today.
Haute Couture is a French term used to describe a fashion house that makes made-to-order garments and showcase collections in Paris. It is referred to many fashion houses though by French law, to have the name of Haute Couture one must have workshop in Paris that employs at minimum fifteen people full-time, design made-to-order garments for private clients and to present collections to the Paris press each season, comprising of at least 35 runs of both daywear and evening wear. To become a Haute Couture fashion house is of great honour and is decided by the Chambre de commerce et d’industrie de Paris; or Paris Chamber of Commerce, who ensure all rules are followed protect the name of Haute Couture. But are these rules outdated? Paris used to be known as the capital of fashion; if one wanted high end and the most fashionable of garments, they were to go to Paris but in today’s society fashion can be found all around the world and not just any fashion but high end garments can be sourced in almost every large city worldwide. Although, Paris is still seen as one of the fashion capitals, is this due to Haute Couture being limited to Parisian fashion houses or is it simply due to Paris forever remaining more fashionable than the rest of the world?
It is the finest form of fashion, all hand-made and tailored to fit an individual; it is the art of dressmaking, tailoring and crafts essential to apparel and accessories. Beginning with the designer, the craftsmen ship of every individual garment is of the highest quality through from fit to the finest of details; every Haute Couture garment is a piece of art. Over time it has withstood the changes of fashion, adapting to it at times and directing it at others. It has been the height of the fashion industry, where consumers look to get their inspiration from; the most common form of the trickle down theory.
The theory suggests that that the distribution of fashion depends upon a hierarchical society or fashion industry, where people are looking to the people ‘on-top’ for inspiration and ideas and the people at the top of the hierarchy are looking to distinct themselves from those ‘below’ them. This suggests that; Haute Couture being the leader in the fashion industry, designers for middle market and lower market brands are looking at Haute Couture for the latest trends and inspirations. Over history this theory has been accurate, as Haute Couture designers have always been considered as the leaders of the fashion industry but with the industry changing is this still the case?
From the mid 1800’s Haute Couture has been at the top of the fashion industry when Charles Frederick Worth established the first Haute Couture house in Paris and began to use the phrase ‘fashion designer’ instead of ‘tailor’ or ‘dressmaker’ as were the common terms used. Worth sold his luxury garments to the fashion elite of the upper class making the term Haute Couture always be of exclusivity, although the translation simply means dressmaking. Haute Couture has withheld it’s name for luxury goods since Worth opened his fashion house and within 100 years of his opening Haute Couture became more exclusive when the Chambre de commerce et d’industrie de Paris was established and laws were put in place for the use of the term. To this day Haute Couture has been limited to only a number of Paris fashion houses and in 2014 only two of which showed at the autumn winter Paris couture schedule; Chanel and Dior.
Fashion is an ever changing and ever growing industry; it develops as the world grows and adapts to the environment of society. Though Haute Couture may have been the part of the fashion industry that everyone once looked to for inspiration of the times, today with consumers wanting to show their own individuality and style and wanting to have new styles coming through as quickly as possible meaning that Haute Couture may not hold on to it’s relevance. Fast fashion is a highly relevant part of the industry today; consumers aren’t necessarily looking to have hand-made and custom-made pieces that are fitted and have the price tag to show this; consumers change their styles on a regular basis and therefore don’t have the time to have custom-made goods.
Also, today’s fashion industry may not be gaining it’s inspiration from the high end brands and from Haute Couture, rather they are looking to the masses; many styles are adapted from what the masses are wearing and then adapted into a fashion from the designers. This is portrayed to be a large change in the fashion industry though is it? Throughout history fashion has come from the street, fashion designers have gained inspiration from everything, from flowers or architecture to the sunset or street, they even find inspiration from individuals who have found a different style than their peers. Designers have also looked at social trends in society and the environment to gain inspiration for their next big ideas. And although the designers may find their inspiration from what people are already beginning to wear, they are still the people that make a small trend into styles and trends that form worldwide.
Along with the change in what influences fashion; technology has taken a huge part in the development of the fashion industry. In today’s society technology is relied on more and more. This is the same for the fashion industry. Technology has made a large difference in terms of manufacturing as well as in terms of the pace of fashion. Where technology has taken over most manufacturing in most fashion companies, making manufacturing faster as well as easier and assists in getting each garment the same, whereas Haute Couture remains to be hand-made and custom-made. This makes Haute Couture a much slower paced part of the fashion industry compared to ready-to-wear. This goes back to the way consumers are wanting fast paced and fast-turn around products and may not give the time to have a hand-made garment regardless of the quality.
With technology comes social media and fashion blogging and journalism; this has had a large effect on the fashion industry. In today’s society social media plays a large part; consumers are constantly on their social media accounts, on their phones and checking what the celebrities and fashion bloggers are wearing. Social media means that consumers are “all watching a show through [their] phone, rather than [their] eyes” (Josh Newis-Smith, BBC UK, 2016). Phones are out at every runway show, people on Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter, everyone trying to capture their own photos and broadcasting that they are at the show; within minutes the world can see each style on the runway before a magazine is able to print. Shows are also live-streamed; so it’s not only those at the show being able to watch it but rather anyone can watch the runway show, making shows not as exclusive. Fashion runway shows used to be a closed-off experience; the only photographs taken were by the professionals, people had to wait to see what would come out in stores, assisting in the trickle-down theory as lower market designers don’t see the latest trends from the luxury brands until it’s already out in market. Social media is meaning that trends and styles can be bought out quickly to the masses, can be manufactured by the middle and lower markets by the time the luxury brands bring it to store; making the trickle-down theory not stand as high, rather a more trickle-across theory starting to grow.
The trickle-across theory makes the assumption that all levels of the market are receiving the same styles and trends basically simultaneously. Social media has had a huge part in making this theory relevant today; due to everyone having their phones on them, the whole world is seeing what trends are coming out for the next season and these styles are being replicated as quickly as fast fashion brands can make possible; the masses are seeing the trends at the same time as the ‘elite’; these styles may differ slightly in quality and to suit each level of the market’s price points but the trends stay the same.
Social media has affected the whole fashion industry, which means that Haute Couture has been affected by it. Where Haute Couture used to be the highest ranked part of the industry but with their shows being shown around the world as it is still on the runway, means that they aren’t the leaders in the industry as much as they used to be; they don’t bring the new trends into the market before everyone else, instead at the same time.
Although technology is making it easy to keep fashion fast paced and consumers are wanting fashion to be at their fingertips, Haute Couture and the slow pace of designing and constructing such pieces will always remain pieces of art, investment pieces. Haute Couture garments are unique, not all are made to be worn off the runway; they are more statements from the designers; artwork. Fashion is a mean of communication, designers use their pieces to show their values, it can be the only way they know how to communicate to the public. Making Haute Couture always relevant in the fashion industry; it is the way everyone who is part of the high end of the industry socialise and share their views, values and beliefs; its how they connect.
Social media may be changing the fashion industry along with the world but Haute Couture will remain to be the highest of quality, significance and influence of the fashion industry. It will always be the ‘must watched’ shows and garments and although consumers may not want slow paced fashion and may change styles every season along with the coming and going trends, Haute Couture pieces are made as one offs, usually timeless and made to withhold the extent of time.
Haute Couture pieces are investments; they are the leaders of the fashion industry regardless of if they can be replicated within weeks or days. They, along with the high-end fashion brands, are still the designers that the rest of the industry looks to for the latest trends and styles. ‘The haute couture persists in providing us with a paragon of the most beautiful clothing that can be envisioned and made in any time’ (Met Museum, 2016).
And that is why I believe that Haute Couture will always remain relevant in the fashion industry, perhaps the laws are slightly outdate but regardless it will forever be relevant regardless of the pace of the fashion industry. It is an art form where designers can express anything and everything and is an inspiration to all.
Paige Lillian xx
(Images: Alexander McQueen Fall 2013, John Galliano for House of Dior Spring 2011, Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood Autumn 2012/2013)