Why is haute couture declining

Stylistic objectivity
Haute couture has arrived in reality

  • In the mirror

    Hella Schneider

This season, haute couture from Chanel, Viktor & Rolf, Dior and Co. appeared to have become more reality than ever before.

Last season we wrote about the fact that the most important haute couture today is designed by women - the most important names in this context: Chanel, Dior, Givenchy. If we only look back five years, the fashion world was a different one in this regard. But the question is, what difference does it make?

Women in leadership positions are traditionally given more empathy, and the question arises again and again of what the world would look like if it were completely ruled by women. In the fashion world, at least in design matters of haute couture (in the economic side of fashion companies there are still more men than women), an answer is slowly emerging: primarily factual, but also just as emotional; Dreams rooted in reality; never absurd or disguised.

The best examples of this could be seen at Dior and Chanel, two of the most important names in haute couture, as is well known. Between elaborate dresses, there were always very wearable items such as costumes and suits to be seen, and with the dresses, too, there is always an absolute will not to let women in haute couture look costumed. This is particularly important in the haute couture category, because in it designers used to turn women into works of art, into their "muses", and the term can be disrespectful anyway, as is well known.

Cooperations with female artists at Dior

But speaking of art: Maria Grazia Chiuri has been collaborating with female artists at Dior for quite some time. This time her choice fell on Judy Chicago, who designed the show's runway in the shape of a uterus. The collection that the models showed was a homage to the beauty that lies in every woman, embodied by ancient Greek references, a timeless, classic conception of what beauty can mean.

Back to Coco Chanel's childhood

At Chanel, Virginie Viard moved via one place back into the history of Coco Chanel according to the principle that Karl Lagerfeld had always followed; however, their choice fell on a place that Lagerfeld supposedly always called "Ugly, ugly!" (to that extent it is also an emancipation of Viard from the great master and her decades-long mentor): the convent where Coco Chanel spent part of her childhood.

Viard showed courage to the not so typical, beautiful sides of Chanel's life - and triumphed with classic, perfected silhouettes and a stylistic game between strict and playful.

Haute couture is closer to the real world today

It can be absurd to look at, talk and write about haute couture in times when the world is ruled by headlines that pound down on us every day. Topics such as climate change do not leave designers unaffected, haute couture has changed, and today it obviously has a lot more empathy for the world around it - whereas it used to be a parallel world for itself.

Today it is shaped by a sensitivity to no longer want to ignore the world out there and to no longer be able to ignore it. Upcycling is a big topic in haute couture today. In 2016 it was Viktor & Rolf who introduced this principle for themselves and made it a great art to turn the used or discarded into the greatest fashion art.

This season, the two worked with clear historical borrowings, their collection looked almost as if deliberately naive and rural - whether that should be a comment on returning to a simpler life because of climate change, the two left open.

New maximalism in wasteful times

The upcycling principle looked even more interesting with John Galliano's collection for Maison Margiela. He only used materials that already existed and agreed with his team that “there is already enough clothing in the world”.

So he turned things that were already there into “memories of bourgeois classics”, a poetic swan song to a world that no longer exists - and at the same time a parallel between today and historical times of abundance, such as the fading aristocracy. Galliano thus shows how maximalism can work even in times when waste is being hyped up as a mortal sin.

The designer Bouchra Jarrar, who put on her own show for the first time this season after having designed for other haute couture houses for years, takes a different sustainable - or shall we say rather cautious - approach. With her collection, which deliberately consisted of only 15 looks, she concentrated on her classics and wanted to perfect them from tailoring down to the smallest details.

She deliberately presented them in an intimate manner at home. "I have designed too many collections," she said, aware of the current overproduction of the fashion system.

Playing with silhouettes and materials

Pierpaolo Piccioli also focuses on silhouettes with Valentino - he consciously said that he “did not want to be a storyteller”; instead, he lets his play with silhouettes and materials speak for itself. In the last few seasons he redefined haute couture with his poetic play of shapes as if single-handedly, now he is even more willing to experiment with techniques and details. It seemed even more romantic and expressive, fashion for fashion's sake. Haute couture thus also stands for a new freedom in fashion.

This can also be seen in Clare Waight Keller's collection for Givenchy - but behind her collection this season there was a certain story as inspiration: that of the garden of Vita Sackville West, where the love story of the writer with her colleague Virginia Woolf is to a large extent played. In Waight Keller's designs memories of clichés of the masculine and feminine emerged, but she dissolves them in the same breath so artistically that a new world of entrenched conventions emerges from it.

This shows how important haute couture is: Because it philosophizes and reflects on our world, society, our humanity, in its best moments. Then it is soft emotion and sharp analysis at the same time.