Op-Ed

Paris Haute Couture Fall 2008: The Relevance of Haute Couture

Dates: Monday, June 30th to Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

Christian Dior Haute Couture Spring 2007

Christian Dior Haute Couture Spring 2007

DALLAS, Jun 8, 2008 / FW/ — In a BBC special, ‘The Secret World of Haute Couture,’ it was mentioned that there are only about 200 ‘paying members’ of this exclusive club of women who wear the most expensive dresses and gowns in the world.

At the turn of the century, it was estimated that there were about 1500 women in this very exclusive list, which was roughly 10% of the 15,000 strong during the early 1960s, the height of the popularity of haute couture in this century.

So, while the world’s population continues to expand, with the super rich numbers also increasing, why is there an attrition of haute couture clients?

For the past five years, as a journalist, I have been trying to find the answer to this question. Pessimists have announced that haute couture is dead; even the most ardent supporters of the craft have acceded.

Yet, twice a year, the press, together with the 200 haute couture ‘club members’ trek to Paris to see the latest collections. So, how can haute couture be dead?

To the eternal optimist in me, I would say that it is alive and well. The shows are exciting and the press coverage has expanded, though not in the traditional media of television and print, but on the internet. In short, it is the traditional media that is dropping haute couture for one reason alone, less audience, which means less advertising dollars spent by advertisers.

But, the new media does not have to worry about ‘rate cards’ so much. They just want to bring news and at times, just provide an independent point of view. And of course, with the advent of YouTube and MySpace, an entirely new playing field arose. Add the blogs and tweeter, news travel at internet speed.

In the beginning, the Internet in general was suspect. It was accused of being the reason that ‘fast retailing exist.’ Yet, an objective view of the situation revealed that ‘copying’ and ‘fakes’ existed long before the internet existed. Times change and haute couture finally realized that the Internet is not the villain here; that the villains existed simply because every civilizations have ‘dregs of society.’

Surprisingly, the Internet was the medium that introduced haute couture to the young people, the one who made them interested to a way of dressing that some would call ‘arcane’. Because truly, in how many places could one wear a $100,000 dress without people noticing that you are only wearing one dress?

Yet, unknown to many, due to the very secretive world of haute couture and the women members shunning publicity, these women have a wardrobe full of haute couture dresses, the same way… ahem… a ‘normal woman’ would have a closetful of clothes, albeit bought at normal prices.

So, is haute couture relevant? To these 200 women — yes! To the rest of the world, though they might not understand it yet, the craftsmanship and artisanship that goes with haute couture should not be lost. If we lose them, it will be equivalent to losing an oral history of a civilization. Whether it is politically correct or not, the tradition of haute couture is part of world history that should continue simply because if we lose it, we lose part of the richness of our heritage.

[MARI DAVIS]

The Secret World of Haute Couture Part 1

The Secret World of Haute Couture Part 2

The Secret World of Haute Couture Part 3

The Secret World of Haute Couture Part 4

The Secret World of Haute Couture Part 5

The Secret World of Haute Couture Part 6

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