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Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community.

Why Does Fashion Need Haute Couture?

Fashion companies are using the age-old traditions of couture to drive different business strategies, writes Imran Amed.
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Cardi B swarmed by paparazzi at the FENDI Haute Couture Autumn/Winter 2023 Show. (Imran Amed)

PARIS — On Monday at 10 a.m., a swarm of extremely well-heeled clients — dressed in Schiaparelli looks, holding Schiaparelli bags and wearing bright gold Schiaparelli jewellery, often the same pieces, from the same collections — proceeded en masse into the Petit Palais in Paris.

This was the official start of the pinnacle moment in high fashion: Haute Couture Week, taking place this season following days of protests after French police brazenly shot 17-year-old Nehel Merzouk dead in broad daylight, creating an odd dissonance between fashion and life on the streets of Paris.

But the shows went on. Over the last few years, the talented designer Daniel Roseberry has revived the historic couture house created in 1927 by Elsa Schiaparelli by leaning into her surrealist and eccentric design signatures. Schiaparelli was a contemporary of Coco Chanel and is known for her collaborations with Salvador Dalí. In 1954, the house fell into disrepair. The brand and its archive were acquired by Italian luxury mogul Diego Della Valle in 2007. He hired Daniel in 2019 to modernise the house and make it relevant for a fashion machine now driven by social media and pop culture.

Cue Cardi B, the 30-year-old rapper with more than 168 million Instagram followers, who entered the show space long after everyone else was seated — stylist, entourage and gaggle of photographers in tow — looking incredible in a voluminous Schiaparelli concoction of black wool tendrils that looked like feathers, over the top of a strapless velvet bodycon gown with the house’s signature gold detailing.

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Cardi B attends the Schiaparelli Haute Couture Autumn/Winter 2023/24 show. (Getty Images/Corbis via Getty Images)

So what is the purpose of Haute Couture in 2023? Is it about selling (very expensive) clothes, cultivating clients and building a proper business? Is it about creating a dream through which brands can sell more perfume and accessories? Or is it a place for innovation, like an R&D lab, where designers can flex their creative muscle to develop garments of unusual scale, complexity and creativity which can then inform and inspire an entire Maison, maybe an entire industry?

This week in Paris, we saw examples of all of the above. Chanel, Dior and Elie Saab were squarely focused on serving their ultra-rich clientele rather than making any bold creative statements. At Jean Paul Gaultier and Viktor&Rolf, the main goal is to drive sales of their popular perfumes. And at Balenciaga, Thom Browne and Schiaparelli, the focus was on creativity, precision of craft and tailoring. That’s what makes these shows interesting to behold: understanding how different companies are using the age-old traditions of couture to drive different business strategies.

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Balenciaga Haute Couture Autumn/Winter 2023. (Balenciaga)

I prefer the idea of couture as an innovation centre, which is why Demna’s Balenciaga was my highlight of the week. (Gaultier has also found a smart way of doing this, using a cast of guest designers — this season it was Julien Dossena of Paco Rabanne — to reinterpret the brand’s codes and mash it up with their own personal signatures.) These days, the ready-to-wear shows are unabashedly commercial and merchandised to the hilt. The only way we push things forward in fashion is when we give creative people the space and resources to experiment and try new things, like all of the men’s couture at Balenciaga and the wool scarves sculpted to look like they were blowing in the wind.

On Thursday afternoon, as the week was coming to a close – and after attending 13 shows in the space of just a few days – I made my way to the Palais de Tokyo to attend the Indian designer Gaurav Gupta’s sophomore couture showing.

Gupta has been an innovator since starting his fashion business, after graduating from Central Saint Martins in 2003 and working with master designer Hussein Chalayan. I attended his first show in New Delhi back in 2006 which leaned into this avant-gardist spirit. It was too advanced for the Indian market at the time, so he has since pivoted to building one of India’s most successful bridal businesses. Showing at couture enables him to push himself creatively again.

Soon, we found ourselves waiting for Cardi B again. By the time she finally appeared 60 minutes after the appointed time — dressed in a lime green hood and crystal-encrusted bustier and skirt designed by Gaurav, of course — the runway photographers were hooting, the paparazzi were fighting for their shots and the fashion crowd was on its feet cheering.

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(L-R) Imran Amed, Cardi B, Fan Bingbing and Leonie Hanne attend the Gaurav Gupta Haute Couture Autumn/Winter 2023/24 show in Paris. (Getty Images)

And this time, Cardi B was seated next to me. I leaned over to say hello and asked her how her week has been. “You must be exhausted,” I said, knowing that one hour earlier she had been at Fendi wearing a completely different look.

She smiled, and nodded and said “I’m super tired” and then added, “But we also broke the fucking internet.” I said, “you certainly did!”

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Earlier in the week, Gaurav and I were discussing the challenges of having a late slot in the calendar after all the big shows are done and many of the clients and editors have started to leave. Having Cardi B support his show ensures that millions of people will see his collection.

And by that criteria, at least, she was this week’s undisputed fashion star.

You can read all of our haute couture coverage and fashion reviews by the industry’s top critics, Tim Blanks and Angelo Flaccavento, on our Fashion Week page.

Here are more top picks from our analysis on fashion, luxury and beauty:

1. It’s official. Gabriela Hearst is leaving Chloé at the end of her three year contract, confirming a report on BoF last week. Hearst has had a mixed tenure at Chloé, somewhat hamstrung by the pandemic and stretched to the limit by having to lead two fashion labels at the same time. Now that she will be focused on her own label, expect to see further momentum in her business, which is said to do more than $20 million in annual revenue. Her last Chloé show will take place on September 28 during Paris Fashion Week. No successor has been announced, though our sources say the house has hired Chemena Kamali, a former Saint Laurent design director for women’s ready-to-wear.

Gabriela Hearst walks the runway during the Chloé Womenswear Autumn/Winter 2023/24 show during Paris Fashion Week in 2023.Opens in new window
Gabriela Hearst is stepping down from her role as creative director at Chloé. No successor has been named. (Getty Images)

2. This week in Paris, System released its 10th anniversary issue focused on the power of fashion in Paris. BoF columnist Luca Solca and I sat down with the excellent editor Jonathan Wingfield who took the many hours of conversations we had examining the topic and distilled them into this 12,000-word piece. TLDR: French luxury companies dominate the fashion industry. “They control the whole ecosystem; they have a lock on it.”

Imran Amed and Bernstein analyst Luca Solca discuss how the biggest French luxury companies dominate the fashion industry.Opens in new window
Imran Amed and Bernstein analyst Luca Solca discuss how the biggest French luxury companies dominate the fashion industry. (Getty Images)

3. We love data-driven journalism at BoF so Joan Kennedy’s analysis on what makes a viral fashion trend is on point: “Gone are the days Miranda Priestly canonised in “The Devil Wears Prada,” where the precise lineage of actress Anne Hathaway’s blue sweater could be traced from Oscar de la Renta’s cerulean gowns to a clearance bin in a corner. Social media — namely TikTok — has made anyone an agenda-setter, and today’s trends often start with the masses.” From cottagecore and quiet luxury to Barbiecore and coastal grandmother, we crunched the numbers and one of these trends is surprisingly resilient — and it’s not the one with a major motion picture coming out in two weeks.

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4. Executives throughout the fashion industry are telling me they are increasing their focus on India, now the most populous country in the world. No doubt this has also played a role in Galeries Lafayettes’ decision to expand into the country, spurring a debate on the future of luxury retail in the country. Our on-the-ground reporting by Arnika Thakur reveals that industry leaders are divided on whether French luxury department store’s expansion into India will spur others to enter the rapidly growing market

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A rendering of the new branch of Galeries Lafayette department store set to open Mumbai, India in 2024. (Galeries Lafayette)

5. On the technology front, Meta laid down the gauntlet on Wednesday when it launched Threads, a competitor to Twitter which has been besieged by drama, turmoil and declining advertising revenues ever since Elon Musk acquired the business less than a year ago. Read Marc Bain’s explainer on what the fashion industry needs to know about the newest social media platform on the block.

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Threads, Meta's new Twitter challenger. (Getty Images)

6. There was a big conversation on Instagram and on LinkedIn about this chart from our recent BoF Professional case study on Hermès examining the effectiveness of the strategy that has helped the luxury leather goods stalwart surpass Nike to become the second-most-valuable publicly traded fashion company in the world, after LVMH. If you haven’t read the in-depth analysis by our luxury editor Robert Williams, it’s a great weekend read.

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The BoF Podcast

Imran Amed and Samuel Ross at The Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.
Imran Amed and Samuel Ross at The Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. (WPP/Charlie Reynolds)

Creative industries still have a long way to go before they become truly inclusive, according to Samuel Ross, designer and founder of London-based streetwear label A-Cold-Wall and industrial and product design studio SR_A.

“There’s not enough diversity in the sector for high achievers who should be there,” he said to me a few weeks back on stage at WPP Stream, during the annual Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, sharing some of the early progress from creating the Samuel Ross Black British Artist Grant Programme.

This week on The BoF Podcast, we explore Samuel’s creative processes, his approach to engaging younger consumers as well as his mission to build a more inclusive creative sector.

Enjoy your weekend!

Imran Amed, Founder, CEO and Editor-in-Chief, The Business of Fashion

P.S. Join us on 11 July at 16.00 BST / 11:00 EDT for a live Masterclass, as BoF’s technology correspondent Marc Bain and a panel of experts unpack the findings from our latest case study: The Complete Playbook for Generative AI in Fashion.

© 2024 The Business of Fashion. All rights reserved. For more information read our Terms & Conditions

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