Maria Grazia Chiuri presented her first haute couture show for Christian Dior this week. Following on from iconic designers Sant Laurent, John Galliano and Raf Simons, Chiuri said she wanted to live her dream, to create something magical, aspirational, but still rooted in reality. But is there a place for reality in haute couture? If you try to give this twice-yearly week of fantastical excess and splendour any sort of pragmatic context, don’t you simply undermine the very essence of it? And if prudence is the yard stick with which you measure all things, how can haute couture be justified at all?
When you introduce the concept of reality to haute couture, my fascination turns to frustration because the grandeur can suddenly seem grotesque. Haute couture isn’t really about clothes anyway (who can afford to even dream about buying a piece of clothing for a quarter of a million euro?), it’s about art and theatre and the kind of creative expression that has no other outlet in which to be explored. Often the “stage” itself is as arresting and expressive and has had as much time and thought put into it as the clothes that walk it.
If ready-to-wear runways provide a show, then haute couture offers an elaborate performance, a spectacle even. It’s the opera to ready-to-wear’s music hall. If someone told me that the costume worn by the Moscow Ballet’s Prima ballerina took six months to make, was handmade and hand-embellished by two master craftswomen and cost tens of thousands of euro to create, I wouldn’t flinch, because the Moscow Ballet is synonymous with absolute perfection, from its costumes to its choreography. Admittedly, these pieces aren’t being sold to private individuals for the kind of sums I’d consider exorbitant spending on an apartment, but that’s why you have to suspend disbelief. Forget reality, Haute couture shows should be viewed in the same way as a world-class ballet, as Oscar-worthy performances that provide utter escapism from our everyday lives (it’s such a shame they don’t sell tickets).
Chiuri wants to make couture wearable. But why? Who is going to pay untold thousands of euro for something that looks like it’s accessible on every high street? And yes, the quality will undoubtedly be clear to those women who are fortunate enough to get up close and personal with these clothes, but for me couture should deliver the wow factor just as much as the quality and craftsmanship. Otherwise the spectacle can begin to feel like a charade. And art demands authenticity.
The one thing that makes me sad about couture is that so many of the creations wind up hidden in the wardrobes of oligarch’s wives. But then a lot of incredible art work ends up in private collections. And couture is art as much as anything hanging in MOMA or IMMA.
Holding shot: Viktor & Rolf Paris Haute Couture SS 2015