Who Even Buys Couture These Days?

Since I missed keeping up to date with Couture Week at the time I thought I’d reflect on it now. I’m actually thinking more about the entire haute couture, made-to-order industry – one that is often thought to be waning. I often wonder who even buys couture? Is it socialites? Princesses? Rich wives of oil barons? Successful businesswomen? Celebrities?

You see, I’ve been reading a couple of fashion related books in the past few months and they’ve touched on the couture industry. They were both written in the late 80s/early 90s, quite some time ago now, and both of the books describe the rich American socialites, heiresses, and wives who travel to Paris twice a year to purchase some haute couture. Some buy an entire wardrobe’s worth (say 2 evening dresses, 2 day dresses, and some skirts/trousers/tops) and others just buy one special piece. However, one thing was consistent: they bought something every season. In fact, the Americans were described as the best customers. And then when watching Dior and I recently, a vendeuse travelled to New York to meet with a prominent customer regarding her couture order…

But I wonder are Americans still good customers? The majority of the women mentioned in the books are now dead or very old; the Nancys (Kissinger & Reagan), Nan Kemper, Mercedes Bass, Brooke Astor. Is the younger generation, perhaps their descendants, into couture or is it a thing of the past? Or what nation boasts the best customers today? China? UAE? Still the U.S.?

When you look at the couture shows now they seem very different than couture did back in the day. Chanel just looks like ready-to-wear Chanel, except there’s a little bit more embellishment, as does Atelier Versace. Many of the brands that present couture show ready-to-wear style clothes that aren’t what you’d imagine when you hear the word “couture”. To me, it has connotations of high glamour, evening gowns, and lots of jewels. I imagine a hotel salon with velvet chairs and models holding number cards when they walk out to show the outfit. Nowadays, a couture show is the same as a regular show, but often with a more elaborate set and exorbitant prices.

The brands that are allowed to present couture (decided by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture) are all expensive brands to begin with. Dior is not cheap, Chanel is not cheap. But then again, if you can afford to walk in the sea with Chanel boots on a la Nicki Minaj, perhaps couture prices are affordable. I’ll never fully understand couture because I don’t think I’ll ever be able to afford it.

According to what I read in the books, the appeal of couture was that nobody else would have it. You could have things fully customised to your liking. If the dress on the runway was red but you’d rather it in black, that can be arranged. If you want the hem raised or lowered, that can be done. It was specific to just you. I’m assuming the same still applies. However, the only time I’ve ever really seen couture worn is by celebrities at the Met Gala (some of them anyway) and also by Kim Kardashian to do god knows what (the Ulyana Sergeenko look, who although she designs couture, is not an official member of the haute couture squad). And the celebrities I have seen wear it have worn straight from the runway looks: no real customisations, as far as I’m aware.

Anyway, as I don’t know the answers to any of my questions nor can I find definitive answers online I shall instead round up my favourite looks from this season’s couture shows. Yes, the shows aren’t as intimate as what I’d imagine them to be, but at least we (the masses) get to see them now. Before, unless you were a potential customer or member of the press, you’d have to rely on sketches, articles in newspapers, and word-of-mouth. Now we can see everything for ourselves. Images on a computer screen or a slightly-blurred YouTube video might not have the same effect as actually seeing the Chanel casino in action, but it’s exciting to even catch a glimpse. It’s things like this that make me love the internet.



Eve Gardiner is the founder and content creator behind evegardiner.com

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