24.07.2019

IS HAUTE COUTURE USEFUL?

Let us count the ways from Fall 2019 collections

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Words: Daniël Geldenhuys

One of the Valentino Fall 2019 Haute Couture dresses took 2 010 hours to put together. That’s over 200 full working days. That level of craftsmanship (and the undisclosed price tag) is the reason haute couture is truly special and, it’s often been said, out of touch with the real world. If fashion is supposed to be a reflection of the times and the most practical of art forms, how does couture connect with everyone outside of the one percent who can actually afford to wear it? Based on this season’s Paris Couture Week, there are three answers.

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Whether you get your thrills from frills or feathers, the Haute Couture collections are a far richer source of formalwear inspiration than the red carpet. That’s not to say you need to attempt a copy — just use your favourite element (be it colour, cut or texture) to create something entirely your own. There will be suitable candidates for every occasion from matric farewells to weddings and, depending on where you look, a night on the dancefloor. If over-the-top feathers and frills are a little too wild for your mood, rest assured there’ll be a calmer, more romantic option, too.

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Sustainability in fashion is becoming more urgent by the day. So, how do you move away from the general consumer’s obsession with trend-driven seasonal purchases created in questionable conditions? By making the opposite cool. That’s exactly what the Haute Couture collections are doing. Key couture principles — such as the value of handwork, the use of quality material and the idea that an item of clothing can transcend trends — are filtering down into ready-to-wear and popular culture. Kim Jones, the menswear designer at Dior, has become known for integrating couture-level technique into his ready-to-wear, as has Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton. Cardi B’s Fall 1995 Thierry Mugler couture gown at the Grammys is this year’s best example of a celebrity helping to facilitate the value in recycling formalwear into the collective conscious.

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As great artists tend to do, the Haute Couture designers created their Fall 2019 collections around intriguing and relevant concepts, giving us lots to ponder, discuss with friends and tweet about. Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri drew inspiration from the 1947 essay Are Clothes Modern? by Bernard Rudofsky. Simplified, the essay is an investigation into the function and comfort of fashion, promoting Chiuri to create clothing that evokes beauty without inflicting discomfort.

Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli set a new standard for inclusivity with his Spring Couture show and this season was no different. The collection harked back to the Diana Vreeland era of fashion, at the dawn of commercial air travel when foreign societies were considered curious and exotic. If that sounded like a concept that toes the lines of insensitivity, Piccioli’s race and age-spanning cast rendered these clothes a contemporary celebration of old-world wonderful (in the true sense of the word) fashion.

Maison Margiela’s John Galliano used his skill for creating gloriously deconstructed clothing as a metaphor for decay and the breakdown of societal structure. What could be more relevant to your newsfeed? Of course, the drama of a breakdown must give way for something new to grow. And in Galliano’s world, that’s a society free of gender constructs, where traditions are stripped apart and sewn back together, repurposed for a brave new world.

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