Only last week have the couture shows in Paris and Milan concluded, taking with them a confused sense of elegance. Whatever happened to those spectacular ballroom dresses, the fantasy of princess-like soirees, the absolute wonder of the finest and most expensive fabrics and techniques known to man? Instead, what we were given by the world’s two biggest couture houses — Chanel and Dior — was what I’m calling Couture Lite.
With the historical-referencing John Galliano out of the picture, Dior’s new chief designer Raf Simons prefers to look into the future. His shapes were simpler and his use of embroidered cutouts completely modern. At Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld’s models wore sneakers! Yes, on the couture runway at the lavish Grand Palais. Both Simons and Lagerfeld showcased jumpsuits and leggings, a far cry from the floor-sweeping gowns couture is ordinarily associated with. In an interview to New York Times’s Cathy Horyn post his show, Simons said, “I wanted clothes that were not only for the red carpet but also to wear and enjoy.”
Dior’s latest darling Emma Watson wore a red dress with exposed pants on her last red-carpet turn. Of course it led to further confoundment, but soon, we begin to ask ourselves the question: Is couture changing?
For too long, European fashion labels have promoted couture only for advertorials. The idea of ballroom gowns is only to sell an idea to the audience, almost all of whom can only afford to pay for a pair of jeans from the label’s prêt-a-porter line, a fragrance or maybe a lipstick. Branding means this: If they like the dress, they’ll buy the perfume.
But what does that do for the clothes, fashion’s erstwhile mainstay? In a revolutionary mood, designers are finally making European couture relevant to its audience. This new and reductive idea of luxury is in keeping with the modern consumer tastes of the world. Haute couture is not about wearing a heavy frock, it is also elegant handwork on super-fine fabrics and innovative cuts.
Usually, India is at the opposite pole of European couture. While the rest of the world creates expensive clothes only for display, bridal fashion thrives in India’s Rs 2,00,000-crore wedding market. Our couture shows are in July, to correspond with trousseau shopping for December weddings.
But interestingly, Indian couture is wearing a modern and subdued look too. For the first time ever, black shows up on a lehenga. Moreover, lehengas are making way for bridal gowns (Gaurav Gupta) and brocade pantsuits (Abraham & Thakore, Sabyasachi), or jackets (Anamika Khanna). Draped fabrics are sometimes taking precedence over embroideries too — Tarun Tahiliani presented an entire collection in a metallic gold that made its wearers look like Greek goddesses.
The changing face of haute couture, in India and the West, is especially exciting. When it was once known to be escapist, it is now contemporary, modish and more accessible. Haute prices notwithstanding.