The Secret World of Haute Couture

Monday, 27 October 2014

A few weeks ago I watched the BBC documentary 'The Secret World of Haute Couture' - an exploration of the haute couture industry and its incredibly small and elite 'club' of consumers. I was particularly interested to watch this documentary as the world of haute couture is one that has always fascinated me, particularly considering that the industry is notoriously difficult to infiltrate as made apparent by presenteMargy Kinmonth who attempts to discover the secrets of the industry, made difficult by the unwillingness of both designers and customers to disclose any information about the elusive world of haute couture.

The documentary reveals that, although couture garments no longer tend to make a profit for the designer themselves because of the sheer man hours it takes to create a haute couture piece, resulting in a hefty price tag, the haute couture industry still exists to create an aura of glamour and to strengthen a designer's brand. John Galliano refers the industry as a "pyramid," whereby, "The haute couture is the 'parfum', and it has a huge influence on the ready-to-wear and accessories. We can call these the 'eau de parfum' and the 'eau de toilette'. Everything takes its inspiration from the haute couture." Galliano's description particularly struck me as he succinctly manages to describe the appeal and influence of haute couture which many fail to understand. I, myself, have always been drawn to haute couture collections and have found them invaluable sources of inspiration, particularly within projects during my A-level Art studies. There is something so alluring and magical about haute couture and the collections themselves and I find myself fascinated by the designer's inspiration and idea behind them, which can vary from art movements to religion and even architecture. 

The documentary reveals a rough figure of the price of couture pieces - information which is usually kept secret. Prices vary but for a suit and blouse, one would be looking between $20,000 to $30,000 and for an embroidered dress, you can expect to pay around $200,000. Of course what everyone wants to know is who actually wears these dresses and, more importantly, who can afford them. Whilst the documentary reveals the identities of a few women part of the 'haute couture club', such as philanthropists and women with wealthy businessman husbands, the majority prefer to stay anonymous. "There are many rich people today, who people have no idea who they are or how they look, and they don't want people to know," says Karl Lagerfeld of his couture clients. This is something I found particularly interesting at just how exclusive and media shy members of the haute couture club are; they aren't interested in displaying their wealth, haute couture to them is more a matter of quality as Daphne Guinness comments, "It's like wearing a second skin." 

What I found most surprising is that, throughout the documentary, Kinmonth remained impartial in her opinion towards haute couture, until she tried on a piece herself, choosing not to judge or pass comments about the industry itself and its club members, where many would be quick to judge as superficial. In the documentary's conclusion, Kinmoth tries on a Christian Lacroix haute couture jacket and it was quite clear that immediately she understood the allure of haute couture, evident in her reaction as she twirled around and admired herself in the mirror. Often when things are out of reach to us and are simply not tangible, we tend to dismiss them completely, particularly within the fashion industry - but why should we? Haute couture is an art form and the  clothes themselves are pieces of art - art that of course many of us will be unable to afford in our lifetime, but why should we not have an appreciation for it? I don't see it as dying industry, but instead something that is beautiful and magical and, most importantly, something that should be admired and respected.

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