209 - Oh Haute Couture!

During my short but brief stint as a saikang warrior for Haute Couture Week, I managed to catch the Haute Couture Symposium on the Globalisation of Haute Couture. The first third or so of the symposium skipped past my ears, but I was particularly piqued when Hélène LeBlanc (check out the list of panelists here) brought up the subject of haute couture becoming a spectacle. 3 over years back when I first started designing, I hardly had any knowledge about thfashion industry at all beyond seeing pretty clothes (I reckon I still have one foot in this state of being), and when I labelled my collections, the ones with crazy, conceptual dresses easily slipped under the tag 'haute couture'. Daniel Boey mentioned that there still exists a mindset in Asia that haute couture means you have to create big, costume-y things, and he isn't wrong. I won't deny that when I watched the Asava show during Asian Couture Evening I felt a bit unsettled because it jarred so much from my usual idea of haute couture (of which Guo Pei epitomizes). Everything seemed like what you would expect from a ready-to-wear show: practical dresses and separates. Similarly, a friend or two of mine told me that they didn't enjoy Thomas Wee's show so much because of it's simplicity. It's going to take a long time before we can actually change that opinion.

But back to the point of a spectacle, Hélène mentioned that it is also seen as a publicity stunt by big brands, and I will tell you, I have read that somewhere else before as well. She added on that couture needed to "get back to its roots" as an incubator of ideas for the rest of the industry. I derived great pleasure in listening to her talk, because unlike most of the other panelists, she understood where 'common' people come from. I don't think I'll ever forget her analogy of how in a tech company, even during budget cuts, R&D is the last department to experience cuts, because it is the foundation of everything else. Similarly, during the Symposium we heard Yiqing Yin talk about how she started first with haute couture, to establish her design aesthetic, and then water down into her ready-to-wear collection from there. More than the intense discipline that goes into hand creating each of this masterpieces, haute couture represents the unbridled imagination, creativity of the mind and intricacy of design that cannot be so easily woven into ready-to-wear collections.

Near the end, Julien Fournié, a haute couture designer himself, said that "we live thanks to the spectacle of Haute Couture", that the public must listen and understand how it works; price is secondary to culture. I can relate with that to a certain extent, but it doesn't remove any validity from Helene's point that couture has been reduced to a (trivial) activity for wealthy in the world, and that it has to regain its footing to establish its relevance for all consumers of fashion. Take Guo Pei for example. I once expounded on how I was so blessed to see her creations up close and personal despite my lack of 'connections', but not everyone has that opportunity. If you cannot let everyone experience the true magnificence of haute couture and what it stands for beyond the flat screens of their computers, then you're bound to have a hard time. To me, that's the most fundamental thing that needs to be taken care of before haute couture can truly immortalize itself and be appreciated everywhere.

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