The “Couture” Controversy

Doodled Juicy Couture CampaignThe other day one of my male friend’s said, Juicy Couture is ‘couture’ because it’s overpriced. While I agree with that statement regarding the sale of $500+ mediocre-quality dresses, I don’t concur with dubbing Juicy and other brands alike including Free City (or companies that sell shapeless sweatpants and hoodies for $200) to be couture, or even ready-to-wear (RTW) fashion, for that matter. Although this argument might seem dismal and irrelevant at first glance, it’s necessary to have a somewhat controversial discussion about the concept of ‘couture’ and ‘high-fashion,’ especially with Spring 2014 Couture Fashion Week currently underway in Paris.

Nowadays, ‘couture’ is one of the most misused words in the sartorial lexicon. That’s because, brands such as Juicy Couture, Romeo & Juliet Couture, Wow Couture and other ones alike dub their factory and mass produced creations “couture,” which is outright misleading and degrading to the industry. In other words, ‘couture coining brands’ and many other overpriced factory produced collections– marketing mediocre-quality apparel– target consumers by coercing them to believe they’re buying ‘couture-esque’ fashion, when they’re truly buying assembly-line apparel– that will be discarded by next year. Don’t get me wrong, brands like Juicy are sold at stores with RTW collections and high-fashion apparel such as Neiman Marcus, Barney’s and Saks. And, while brands like Juicy Couture and Romeo & Juliet Couture aren’t typically my taste, per se, they’re simply mediocre-quality and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Nonetheless, it’s imperative to note, there’s also a significant distinction between couture and RTW fashion. Most couturiers launch both RTW and couture lines. However many RTW designers don’t launch couture collections including highly sought after designers like Alexander Wang and Marc Jacobs. Still, the RTW and couture caliber of collections are typically released at bi-annual Fashion Week events. Also, RTW lines are still usually exclusive and created with high-quality details and materials. However RTW is occasionally mass-produced, yet not always, and it’s typically more suitable for everyday wear versus couture, which is intended for red carpet appearances or ornate events. With that said, I think this week in Paris should be dubbed “Haute Couture Fashion Week” rather than “Couture Fashion Week.” “Haute couture” is the French term for high fashion. In French, “couture” means dressmaking. And, “haute” is defined as high-end. Thus, the combination of these words imply, the craftsmanship of superior-quality garments.

Aside from that, the designers currently launching their respective collections are authentic couturiers  because they’re artisans. Moreover, their collections feature one-of-a-kind garments — crafted with extreme attention to detail, superior-quality materials and are handmade by the world’s top-tier seamstresses. And, thus, have extremely limited availability. Henceforth, authentic ‘couture’ creations are limited edition and highly-exclusive garments, which can be equated to collectors items and merit elite distinction, just like a Hermès Birkin Bag or an original Van Gogh painting. Thus, the term ‘couture’ isn’t conceptually applicable to affordable mass-produced clothing such as Juicy Couture. Furthermore, dubbing such brands as ‘couture’ is a gross understatement.

Of course, most people (who are even well-off like myself) can’t afford to purchase couture and it’s not intended to be affordable to professional women either. Undeniably, couture is a lucrative investment– intended for heiresses, celebrities and people with a similar net worth. By all means, if you desire to buy a collaborative collection from Target, H&M or enjoy dropping $200 on a pair of sweatpants or ripped jean shorts from Juicy Couture, please do. Just don’t think that you are buying ‘couture,’ high-end fashion or a piece of Jason Wu or Karl Lagerfeld’s legacy (this is applicable to me too). Nevertheless, if this has become your idea of couture or even high-end fashion, I recommend you reconsider.