Couture – what does it mean, really? On a surface level, most of us know what couture is; really really expensive clothes for people with more private jets than sense. Couture shows are populated with the super-duper-uber rich, people who sneeze into hankies made of the real Turin Shroud, people who watched ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ and had several painful pangs of nostalgia. Truly, those were the good old days. That was when all the real excess happened.
Couture has always been about exclusivity; it’s difficult to manufacture, can take thousands of hours to produce and is incredibly costly. It’s not totally out of the ordinary to see a couture wedding dress with over a quarter of a million little pieces of fabric meticulously attached. It is, however, very unusual to see more than a few produced. Like I said, it’s exclusive.
People get jaded very quickly. What do we, the public, care for exclusivity? We could never afford these fripperies. You could easily buy a house in today’s property market (outside of Dublin, at least) for the price of a particularly well-embellished couture gown. Why bother? That much excess verges on overstuffed, overindulged, flabby stupidity.
This season, the team behind Maison Martin Margiela’s Artisanal line have added a new layer – history. History is the new exclusivity and history, in this case, will not repeat itself. The MMM team armed themselves with what must have been epic amount of guts and searched the world for vintage materials with some sort of artistic or historical significance.
Somehow, they managed to wangle yards of culturally priceless interior fabrics from the archive of legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. What did they do with this fabric? Dear reader, I shall tell you. They wove it into t-shirts. A Twenties-era tapestry inspired by the Tahitian paintings of Paul Gauguin was made into a heavy opera coat. Scarves stripped from a 1930s brothel were sewn into skirts.
In an era where modern technology is in danger of making couture techniques of sewing and embellishment obsolete, this is the new exclusive; the heavy weight of history. It’s desirable, but in an incredibly high-minded way. Of course, you could replicate that tapestry, but it won’t have the same story. It won’t bear the marks of the passage of time. You can mimic the Frank Lloyd Wright fabric, but it won’t really come from the man himself anymore. It would just be a facsimile; bland and boring.
The modern couture collection is high-minded in its desirability.You could also argue that it is eco-friendly, an able evolution in a couture industry that was barely limping along a few years ago. However, the question remains – is this sort of shenanigan recycling, or just desecration?