The Survival of Haute Couture, in the 21st Century.

The Survival of Haute Couture, in the 21st Century.

Feb 2014

Christopher Mello

The Survival of Haute Couture, in the 21st Century.

Does the Art Form of Haute Couture Face Extinction?


To most Haute Couture is just a way of saying “I have the disposable income to spend thousands of dollars on a gown, wear it once and let it burry itself in my closet”, yet couture is a craft like none other. Firstly each piece is created by hand, with no machinery what so ever, not even for fastenings. The art is made to detail, meaning fit to measure, so it’s a custom fit for the client, made from only the finest, high quality fabrics known to man. Haute Couture is known as being derived from the Englishman, Charles Frederick Worth, whom built the Parisian Couture house known as Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, which in other words means the Chamber of trade of the Parisian Couture. This school is located in France, where Couture all began, and was created as a form to help fashion houses find seamstresses and ateliers to hire- in order to keep the houses running the Couture lines.

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Although each work of art is hand made, with endless hours put into it, it’s hard to place a price tag on a priceless piece, which is made to last years to come. Yet with a price tag so high and a targeted market so, it’s quite foreseeable as to why fashion houses have dropped from over 106 to a remaining of 24 houses. Reasons that add on to the demise of couture are the strict rules, enforced by the Chambre de Commerce et D’industrie de Paris. Theses rules consist of; designs made-to-order for private clients, with one or more fittings, having an atelier in Paris the employs at least 15 staff members full-time, the house must have 20 full-time technical people in at least one atelier and lastly, every season the house must present a collection of a minimum of 50 original designs, consisting of both day and evening garments, both in the months on January and July each year.

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Since the creation of prêt-a-porter other wise known as ready-to-wear in 1980, the need and want for a Couture piece has faded from close to a million to now no more then 4, 000 buyers worldwide. As Haute Couture fades-some of the eldest houses such as Lanvin, Chanel and Christian Dior simply construct and reveal the pieces down the runway, not for sale, but out of sheer pleasure. Current designer houses argue back and forth and whether or not Couture will last. Designers such as Pierre Berge (former head of YSL- another house that does not create Couture anymore) state over and over “Haute Couture is a joke. Anyone who tells you it still matters is fantasizing. You can see it dropping dead all around you. Nobody buys it any more. The prices are ridiculous. The rules for making it are nonsensical. It belongs to another age. Where are today’s couturiers? A real couturier is someone who founds and runs his or her own house. No one does that anymore.” Rather Bernard Arnault (head of LVMH: which owns both Dior and Givenchy) disagrees “Haute couture is what gives our business its essential essence of luxury. The cash it soaks up is largely irrelevant. Set against the money we lose has to be the value of the image couture gives us. Look at the attention the collections attract. It is where you get noticed. You have to be there. It’s where we set our ideas in motion.”

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From battles geared towards both extinction and continuation of Couture, its uncertain as to whether or not the art form of Haute Couture will be preserved into the next 100 years to pass. What is certain is that there are still buyers, lovers of art- and ones that will always defend the ideal basics of where clothing originated from, being hand made, known as a long material wrapped around, then transitioning into a tunic, thus only growing from there. What we see today, are modern forms of art created into clothing, using 21st century technology like laser cutters, etc. Yet for certain this writer will continually preserve the love of hand made beauty, gazing upon the pieces as they parade down the runway every January and July.