by Thomas Kublin

Is Haute Couture still relevant?

While the shows have just finished hitting the runways in Paris, time has come to reflect on the state of Haute Couture itself, its importance nowadays and its future within the fashion industry.

From Schiaparelli to Dior and from Vauthier to Margiela, what unites them all is their name written on the ultimate calendar of the year: the Haute Couture week. Whether they present their winter or summer collection, it is always the most important event, the one that everyone covets.

However, Haute Couture now has to broach one of the biggest issues in the industry: a need for more instantaneity that may, in the end, encroach upon genuine creativity. Haute Couture therefore counters the immediacy of fashion and celebrates a return to basics and the brands’ DNA. 

And we are witnessing a real tribute to those houses’ past, full of history, expertise and proficiency. Schiaparelli was among the first ones to coyly relaunch its Haute Couture division, back in 2014 and after a 60-year break. Later down the road, in 2017, Poiret showcased its first show in more than 80 years. But where does it all leave us? We cannot rebuff the importance of Haute Couture for brands, which use this department as a way to sell and promote an everlasting dream to consumers.

Balenciaga is then the last testament to this statement. Indeed, the artistic director of the house Demna Gvasalia announced last week the relaunch of the Haute Couture division for July 2020. The designer himself states that it is the best way for a brand to unleash its authentic creativity, without boundaries. ‘‘For me, Couture is an unexplored mode of creative freedom and a platform for innovation. Couture is above trends. It’s an expression of beauty on the highest aesthetic and qualitative levels.’’

Thus, a whole Haute Couture whirlwind is taking over the industry, putting forward and celebrating the brands’ spellbinding legacy. Houses end up bringing back what used to be their main activity at the beginning, their true essence.

Nevertheless, this agreeable decision to celebrate the come back of their know-how does not bring any profit to the brand but is only a question of representation in the fashion industry, as only a very limited percentage of clothes are sold. The idea of promoting a real-life fantasy is what mainly motivates brands to join the restricted club of Haute Couture actors, even though creativity and innovation are what they put forward as a guise. Indeed, brands manage to sell a dream so that people end up buying goods which enable them to be part of this exclusive community: perfumes, make-up and all kinds of accessories.

But what does it imply for the brands themselves? Working with Haute Couture is the best way to promote their other departments, to increase their visibility and most importantly to rise sales thanks to all the advertising made out of a single event, with the help of journalists but also influencers and personalities.

Yet, at the end of the day, only houses with an immense back-up can pretend to continue or re-develop Haute Couture. According to Cédric Charbit, President and CEO of Balenciaga, it is the only reason why they manage to do it: ‘‘The exceptional results of Balenciaga these past few years’’ are responsible for the redevelopment of Haute Couture internally.

In this manner, brands that do have an Haute Couture division are nowadays among the most valuable and the highest on the market, conferring them on an immeasurable ascendent on the industry. It brings them legitimacy and shows the world what fore-runners they are.

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