Op-Ed

Paris Haute Couture Fall 2009

Dates: Monday, July 6 to Thursday, July 9, 2009

 

Christian Dior Haute Couture Fall 2009

Christian Dior Haute Couture Fall 2009

 

A Fashion Paradox

DALLAS, May 13, 2009 / FW/ — With a week separating the menswear season from the haute couture season, the lofty world of the made-to-measure craft now stands alone, as it was over 150 years ago when Charles Worth founded the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture.Before the advent of ready-to-wear, only the ladies who wear haute couture wear fashion; everyone else just wears clothes. But, times had changed. Fashionistas are either ‘high street’ for luxury ready-to-wear or ‘budget’ for those who subscribe to fast retailing and affordable fashion.

Still, the ladies of haute couture had remained ‘ladies’; they were never given the label fashionistas. During the haute couture season and everyday of the year, couture houses refer to them as ‘their ladies’ and sometimes, they are also called ‘patrons’, for which the equivalent term in the theater is ‘angel’ because these ladies of haute couture truly support a maison even with just one order.

Yet, haute couture is a fashion paradox. Obviously French in origin, haute couture belongs to the world because these made-to-measure garments are literally and figuratively works of art. But, since the turn of the 21st century, the number of haute couture houses and clients has dwindled dramatically.

Even to most of its ardent supporters, to many, haute couture is on the list of endangered species. That pessimistic point of view is so rampant that there is even a ‘Haute Couture Protection Guild’ with the objective of saving haute couture for the next generation. Though some of you might find it funny, this is a real organization which is based in Paris.

And that is the first paradox of haute couture, which incidentally is also the name of the company – Parisian Paradox – that runs the Haute Couture Protection Guild.

The second part of the paradox is the secrecy surrounding haute couture. A double-edged sword for the industry, the veil of secrecy surrounding the houses and the clients is the reason why haute couture had survived the past 150 years; but it is also the reason why it is an endangered species.

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.

That said, it should also be mentioned that with the current recession, luxury shopping had become a clandestine affair even for the high street fashionistas who for a long time did not mind flaunting a $15,000 Hermes bag.

With government bailouts happening in several of the G8 countries, even corporations and their executives have to be very careful on how their spending will look to the eyes of the generation population or they will get a public relations nightmare similar to the much maligned AIG today.

So, where does the wave of public opinion bring the ladies of haute couture? Already secretive as a force of habit, this new world order of ‘political correctness’ in terms of spending will probably drive them to be covert, even surreptitious in their purchases.

And that is perhaps one of the reasons why instead of the traditional ‘day after’ menswear start of haute couture, there is an 8-day gap for this season. There will be less eyes looking. Again, this is a paradox.

In the era of the paparazzi and the tabloid press, the more you try to hide something, the more interest it generates. Hence, there is perhaps a point in this exercise. But, the ladies of haute couture are very seldom the subjects of the paparazzi press.

Hence, without both the paparazzi and the fashion press, there will be very little coverage and thus sending haute couture to oblivion. And, if there are no interest from the young people, then the double edge sword just became sharper on the endangered species side.

[MARI DAVIS]

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