Op-Ed Paris

Paris Prêt-a-Porter Fall 2008: Is Luxury Ready-To-Wear The New Trendsetter

Jean Paul Gaultier Spring 2008DALLAS, Jan 28, 2008 / FW/ — The Paris Haute Couture season is traditionally the harbinger of trends; yet the recently concluded Spring 2008, though it was as beautiful as ever failed to show any strong inclinations. Will the upcoming Prêt-a-porter (Paris Fashion Week) pick up the torch?

Even before haute couture was ‘officially’ born in 1868, Paris is a trendsetter when it comes to fashion. Historical notes point out that during the Middle Ages, even while France and England were at war, carriers of the fashion dolls which were dressed in the latest fashion of the French courts were allowed to pass enemy lines so that the ladies at Buckingham Palace would still be wearing the latest styles.

Several hundred years had passed since then, but Paris still holds court when it comes to fashion. When ready-to-wear was born during the 1960s, it played second fiddle to its exquisitely ‘exclusive’ sister, haute couture.

Times had changed since then. Prêt-a-porter or ready-to-wear, to use an American vernacular, ‘sold like hotcakes.’ Pretty soon, ready-to-wear were classified into three – luxury, mid-level and mass market, based on the target clientele.

Enter the mass affluent; unlike the super rich who up to today remain haute couture’s core clientele, the mass affluent fell in love with ready-to-wear. In the course of time, the super rich also started buying luxury ready-to-wear for reasons that are only known to them. Thus, as the 1990s and 2000s rolled around, when it comes to clothing, ready-to-wear became the bread and butter of fashion houses.

By sheer numbers of designers who specialize in luxury ready-to-wear, including those who make demi-couture, experimentation and innovation started coming from the ready-to-wear sector. New fabrics, from high tech to natural, created by mixing natural fibers together were invented for ready-to-wear. And, like most industries, fashion fell into the economics law of supply and demand.

In Paris, the once vibrant world of haute couture dwindled to 12 official members plus 3 correspondent members, a total of 15. On the other hand, during the Spring 2008 prêt-a-porter season, there were 90 names on the official calendar alone. If we include the unofficial list and presentations, that number can easily double.

Add to that the fact that all haute couture houses actually have a ready-to-wear division. In short, statistically speaking, the chances of innovations and trends coming from luxury ready-to-wear are very high.

If I’m a betting man, I’ll put my money on the upcoming of Paris Prêt-a-porter season to unveil groundbreaking designs and set new trends.

(Photo above: From the Jean Paul Gaultier Spring 2008 collection, photo by Giovanni Pucci)