The Curious Case of Haute Couture

2016-7-21 fashion Fashion

Details on a gown

I'll just say it: Haute couture attire is fantastic, whimsical, air-headed, obnoxious, and vain. It requires craftsmanship efforts and monetary investments so vast they hardly even match up to couture’s utter defiance of practicality.

Haute couture is the feast at the cost of famine and the plaything of the ultra, ultra well-to-do. But it is also the darling of fashion, the hazy dream of teenage girls’ Tumblr dashboards, and the magnificent Olympic games for arbiters of elegance. 

Today, I'm going to delve deep into the pros and cons of couture and all it represents. Don your finest gown and let's get started.

Arguments for Haute Couture

On one hand, haute couture is where fashion obtains its highest artistic form. Here, fashion transcends “clothes” to become “adornments” and "artwork". Countless hours are spent on hand-embroidering a jacket or on making sure the fabric is cut to absolute precision. Obtaining the spotless quality of couture begins even before the fabric is made – say, in the choice of the best worms that will weave the yarn for silk tulle. 

As the physical manifestation of everything luxurious, haute couture is atoken of the “good life,” favored by both family jewels’ inheritors and new money aristocrats from emerging countries. Everything most interesting about fashion happens in couture, where the dire utilitarianism of our daily lives is replaced by the dreamy and the anachronistic, the hysterical and the obscene. 

Elie Saab stealing my soul. Again, (x)
Elie Saab stealing my soul. Again, (x)

Couture is a fantastic performance. Those in favor of couture would say that to get rid of it would mean a vote for all things safe and average, where everything spectacular is banished. The world needs the fantastic, the showy, and the sensational, if only to prove that such things - and by extension, all things - are possible.

On the other hand, couture hides a subtle devaluing joke. No matter how splendid, as soon as couture steps off the runways to belong to someone, its role is reduced to a vulgar display of ostentatious egotistical status. From the model bodies, chosen specifically to best display the dress, couture migrates to grace ordinary humans and their imperfections. Suddenly, couture becomes cheap in the cloud of celebrity magazine discussions and badly disguised jealousy. Haute couture is not meant for belonging, just like in some way great art is not meant for hanging in color-matched lobbies. 

Against Haute Couture

Those who want to burn those phoenix-like dresses have an easy point at hand. They can view couture as just an obsolete reminder of monarchical rule, where people were granted lifelong statuses by what they assumed was a sovereign higher power. They can also draw similarities between historical aristocracy and late capitalism, under which, as the ancient proverb goes, the rich keep getting richer, while maintaining the illusory obtainability of the American Dream. Couture, then, is just another aspect of life negatively affected by capitalism.

A world without couture, to those in favor, could be a world where we spend our intricate ballgown budget on ensuring life on Earth is bearable for everyone. The ideal world for some; for others it lacks contrast and ardor. But it's hard to argue that couture is truly important in a world where so many have so little.

In fact ready-to-wear is where companies generate waaay more profit. (x)
In fact ready-to-wear is where companies generate waaay more profit. (x)

The direct opposite of couture – the recent democratization of clothing – has taken the form of fast fashion, where an item lasts about as long as the fad it represents and is created under conditions of human right violations in insufficient time. Socialistic tendencies of a country then become a way to outsource and exploit less developed countries to maintain the halo privilege of “citizenship.” Couture may not be necessary or justified.

The truth, as it often does, lingers somewhere in between the two radical approaches. Maybe once we have provided for the basic physiological needs for the whole of humanity and established universal minimal wages and – getting utopian here – global citizenship, we can marvel at the dreamy translucent dresses with masterfully crafted embroidery without the sting of guilt.

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