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To Couture or Not to Couture : Is The Move In/Out of Couture As Divisive As It Seems?

Jean Paul Gaultier sent shockwaves through the fashion-sphere back in January when he announced his departure from the runways with his final show in Paris, in the same month it was announced that Balenciaga will be returning with its first haute couture show this July. For decades, magazines have been plagued with the question ‘Is Haute Couture Dead?’, and with Demna Gvasalia only the latest in a line of a designers and directors turning their attention back to couture it would appear this life-long question will remain unclear. However, it is only upon taking a deeper look at the recent moves of both houses than an underlying and unifying theme appears revealing a much more important trend within high fashion, whether on the runway or not.

Couture has generally been a loss leader in strictly financial terms, but has always been appreciated for the creative value which does offer a ripple effect for a designers identity and success. In previous years, Balenciaga has experienced significant growth and become increasingly accessible due to its position as frontrunner in the uniting of luxury and streetwear. But now it seems like a new tactic is in play. Gvasalia himself has publicly voiced a need to return the emphasis back to the skill and craftmanship that characterises haute couture, and away from the scarcity and uniqueness that granted the streetwear model its commercial appeal. This move has resulted in revisiting of the house archives for new inspiration, suggesting a new appreciation for the longevity of craft over the flash popularity of contemporary collaborations.

Interestingly, this prioritisation of artistry, technique and brand history that is present in Gvasalia’s work is similarly reflected in the words and decisions of Gaultier, despite the eponymous house being taken in a seemingly different direction to that of Balenciaga. His final runway show was a celebration of his 50-year career and the shockingly memorable designs to show for it, including Madonna’s iconic cone-shaped bra and corset. But this return to the past was much more than narcissistic celebration of Gaultier’s genius; this was a strong message of the need to reuse and recycle the old to produce something wonderfully new. This has been a long-standing stance for Gaultier. Last summer Gaultier hit out at the fashion industry for its contribution to depletion and waste, and even back then hinted his next (and, as it turns out, final) show would be an exploration of this concept. This came several years after his exit from ready-to-wear on the grounds ‘too many clothes kills clothes... fashion has changed’.

Whichever direction designers choose to go, perhaps what should be drawing our attention is this new appreciation for quality over quantity, something which is starkly missing from our modern fashion industry that has been built to feed the demands of the masses. It is delightful to see that some designers are resisting the temptation to create the frenzied demand which has accompanied the ‘drop model’ of streetwear for instant financial return, and instead area concerned with the real value that comes with genuine skill and artistry. Whilst this may not be possible in other areas of the fashion industry, as with exclusivity comes a hefty price-tag, we can hope that sustainability will become a more overt concern at all levels.

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