Do We Still Need Haute Couture?

A look at its controversiality in our current climate

As seen by Stockholm’s decision to cancel its fashion week in the name of sustainability and the biodegradable renewal of staple items such as Prada’s nylon bag in recycled ocean plastic, fashion is experiencing an anthropogenic reaction to our shifting ecosystem. Whilst many designers do not yet subscribe to sustainable materials, since Lagerfeld’s infamous sustainable ‘eco-couture’ collection in 2016, couture has begun to align itself with contemporary fashion’s main preoccupation.

Yet, whilst the luxury of couture has long-faced criticism for its lack of material sustainability and indulgence in material opulence, it can be argued that couture has never subscribed to the fast-fashion agenda of consumerism and its waste, a capitalist malevolent that has called our need for sustainability in the first place.

As rallied by Vivienne Westwood: “buy less”. This is the very nature of couture’s production which is focused on the individual wearer rather than the mass consumer. Whilst this is plausibly less commendable, it is the very exclusivity of couture that encourages the alternative economy of a radical shift in consumption, given its select market in the upper echelons.

Couture might be known to mean high image value for big brands, but it is in fact the main source of revenue for Arab designer, from Syrian designer Rami Al Ali’s staging at the Ritz this week to Lebanese designer Nicolas Jebran’s debut (having already dressed Beyoncé and Cardi B). It is within Arab tradition to dress well, as shown by the sheer number of dresses mandatory to purchase before the lead-up to a relative’s wedding. It’s in our nature to dress and consume carefully, in a religious society where you dress for yourself as much as for other women.

And is it not the very decadence of couture that imagines fashions allure? The act of dressing is performative – as famously laid-out by Barthes in his seminal 1967 text ‘Système de la mode’, fashion is a language; and clothes only transition into fashion with the ailment of words or images. The high fashion of couture is obligatory to the classic notion of the fashion magazine, the world of fashion which makes-accessible an industry that allures in its readers.

To elaborate in fashion is to elaborate couture, tapping into innovation and sustainability for the planet we’re consuming, and for its careful consumers.

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