Paris haute couture – the highest expression of fashion – opens Monday with a crammed calendar of boldface name brands and a score of young hopefuls in one of the most intriguing seasons in years.
France’s two most famous fashion marques Dior and Chanel will lead the action on Monday and Tuesday. Two Italian couture houses will be the biggest shows on Wednesday and Thursday – Valentino and Fendi. While Giorgio Armani will hold the gala show of the Tuesday night.
Though the most keenly anticipated show will probably be Haider Ackermann at Jean-Paul Gaultier, the fourth designer to be invited into the house to stage a one-off couture collection. His three predecessors – Chitose Abe, Glenn Martens and Olivier Rousteing all staged pretty sensational shows. A designer of great talent, Ackermann will also unveil his ideas inside Gaultier’s historic headquarters in the funky end of the 3rd arrondissement.
Though by most estimates there are probably less than 5,000 actual clients for couture, its influence remains immense. As does its magnetic power. A giant flotilla of limousines will rove around Paris to the major shows held in historic venues – like Dior in the Rodin Museum.
The official calendar of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, French high fashion’s governing body, boasts a total of 29 brands, beginning with Schiaparelli on Monday at 10 a.m. in Place Vendome, and finishing with Robert Wun on Thursday at 6 p.m.
As is now customary, a small group of ready-to-wear brands will jump on the coattails of couture staging shows while major editors and VIPs are in town. So, the houses of Mugler and Zadig & Voltaire will hold evening shows on Thursday and Friday evening.
Though, they will be small fries compared to the great couture houses, which often charge over €100,000 for a hand-made couture suit and several times that for a wedding dress. All couture shows traditionally end with a Marianne, or bridal dress.
Thousands of artisans, embroiderers, seamstresses, cobblers and milliners contribute to making couture fashion’s most rarefied moment. It’s hard to quantify the exact economic impact, though by adding together the annual turnover of all the brands showing during couture, the figure is in excess of €30 billion.
Testifying to how international couture and couturiers have become – there will be six marques of Italian origin; four Lebanese led by Elie Saab; two from India and Holland; and one each from China, Morocco, Cameroon and America.
Though the heart of the matter will be French couture houses, from the historic to the new generation – notably Alexandre Vauthier, Stephane Rolland and Julie de Libran.
Entrance onto the sacred couture calendar is extremely complicated and requires approval by a discreet committee of the Federation, whose composition is never officially revealed. In the end, the calendar is composed of fully fledged members, major hitter corresponding members and fledgling guests members.
One side effect is that a further score of ‘couturiers’ will stage small shows and presentations throughout the city independently – from Ukraine’s Frolov to India’s Vaishali, to mention just two.
However, the hottest tickets will always be to the great houses, who rightly regard couture as the laboratory of fashion, where technological advances, fabric innovations and designer fantasy meet.
There are four great capitals in fashion: London, Milan, New York and Paris. But only Paris has couture, another reason why it remains the number one fashion capital on the planet.
To hear more about French thinking and what drives couture, we spoke to Pascal Morand, executive president of the Federation, to hear his predictions for the future.
Fashion Network: How important is haute couture for fashion? And for France?
Pascal Morand: The legally protected haute couture status is a distinctly French exception that promotes and protects creativity and uniqueness, know-how and innovation. It symbolizes an exceptional French tradition, which resonates worldwide. This status implies a whole ecosystem of professions, education and training, where the métiers d’arts and the ateliers take central stage. Beside Haute Couture Members, Haute Couture Week welcomes houses from all over the world: either Corresponding Members, and Guests Members selected each season by the Committee of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, chaired by its president Sidney Toledano.
FNW: What is the value of couture to Paris or to the French economy?
PM: The economic power of haute couture is highly significant. It arouses the imagination while being a leading light for the whole fashion economy. The haute couture market has been recently assessed at $11.5 billion for 2021, with a forecast of $13.5 billion in 2028. Haute couture employs directly, or indirectly with associated arts and crafts, several thousand people in France. Beyond these figures the qualitative economic power of haute couture is highly significant, as witnesses the Media Impact Value (MIV) of the Haute Couture Week, which reached 120 million euros in July 2022. It represents indeed a driving and influential force for creative ready-to-wear and much beyond. It embodies the role of Paris as the world’s capital of fashion, savoir-faire and creativity.
FNW: Many of the great couture houses – like Dior or Chanel – are flourishing. Why has it been harder for a new generation to emerge?
PM: The arrival of new Guest Members over the past years, such as Yuima Nakazato, Imane Ayissi, Julie de Libran, Maison Sara Chraibi, Gaurav Gupta, and Robert Wun marks the rise of a new generation. Haute couture acts as a magnet which reinforces its power. Still, it is a challenging task to build a couture house. A young designer can decide to create sur-mesure clothes. But being selected as a Guest Member in the official calendar requires to be highly creative and innovative, and also to work with métiers d’art and ateliers.
FNW: What sort of support does the Fédération or the French government offer to fledgling couturiers?
PM: The Fédération provides strong support to fledgling couturiers, through its ambitious Emerging Brands Initiative. Moreover, the Fédération benefits from the support of DEFI for financing the shows of young designers.
FNW: For many years, Pierre Bergé predicted that couture would die, but this season there are four busy days of shows. Why do you believe couture is having such a revival?
PM: We have reached a new era where creativity, know-how, uniqueness and personalisation are sought after in any sector of the economy and society. Haute couture is the epitome of this deep move which is enhanced by the need to compensate the spreading of digitalisation with sensory and physical emotion. In this sense, haute couture stands at the forefront of modernity.
FNW: What have you done to reduce the carbon footprint of couture?
PM: In haute couture, each garment is conceived and constructed with sustainability in mind at every stage. The intelligence of the hand, coupled to uniqueness and the intemporal value of haute couture, symbolizes the essence of sustainability.
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