Although the word ‘haute couture’ is closely linked to high prices, celebrity clients and a Parisian debut, it shouldn’t be confused as meaning this alone. To class as couture, the designer or ‘courtier’ must first receive certification from the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. They then need to maintain an atelier in Paris employing at least 15 people full time, and present a collection of 35 or more looks for day and night for each collection. ‘Haute Couture’ creates made to measure garments, and therefore fittings are an important part of the production, which can take over 800 hours each to produce- hence the high prices.
Although the death of couture has been predicted for years, the spring 2017 show demonstrated fashion at its most exquisite. Chanel created mirror -themed looks which reflected the luxury of haute couture. They kept a mostly pastel palette with rare flashes of black and midnight blue. Materials were structured in all forms from ruffles to sharp tailoring. The collection is perhaps best epitomised by look 55 of 66- an almost tutu shaped garment, with a dust pink feather skirt- reminiscent of an ostrich bustle, combined with a gem-encrusted bodice, which emphasised the waist with a wide pale pink belt.
Meanwhile the Armani Privé collection was characterised by bold orange materials contrasted against black. Chiffon and sequins ruled the drawing board, as well as black spiked sashes and snake skin belts. Repeat patterns reminiscent of Persian carpets, paired with large amber earrings and necklaces created a colourful and glamorous effect. The most exotic look however was a dress which combined a relatively simple sequinned sheer sleeveless top separated by a single gold bow belt from the twirled satsuma-coloured crepe chiffon skirt. The skirt formed two layers- the bubble shape layered over a skin-tight layer. Its exceptional craftsmanship emphasised the purpose of haute couture to serve as a platform for originality and creativity.
Arguably one of the most excessively original characters of modern couture though is Dutch designer Iris van Herpen. Her creations take design to another level, with garments which wouldn’t look out of place in a sci-fi movie, and this season was no exception. The theme for spring 2017 was ‘Between the lines’, which was achieved through creating materials through a process of injection moulding of transparent polyurethane. The material was then hand-painted in black and white lines. The results are stunning, allowing for the creation of indescribable organic shapes which when left unpainted can then be layered to give the illusion of water droplets. One of the most impressive pieces this season is a black and white armour-like dress. Parallel lines fall in semi circles creating the illusion that the model’s body shape is transforming. What’s more with this collection the defined lines take on a life of their own when they move and bring an element of magic to the clothes.
What each designer proves in their Spring 2017 couture collection is that fashion is not restricted to ready-to-wear items or the must-have items seen in the windows of Topshop. The couture clientele is estimated to have increased by 20-30% in recent years with many courtiers including Chanel noticing an increase in European and Middle-Eastern clients, as well as the red carpet celebrity buyers. However, for many the couture shows are more about the chance to see and feel inspired by the artistic expression shown through the medium of clothing.