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How Haute Couture Interacts with Us: The trickle-down effect and social commentary in couture

by AJ Craig


To boil it down to it’s thick, sticky essence, haute couture is high fashion. 

It is exclusive, handmade, and one of a kind. Simply considered as expensive, fashionable clothes produced by leading fashion houses. 

Francois Durand/Getty Images

It’s so exclusive, in fact, to be categorised as haute couture by the French government brands must have a Paris atelier and meet a quota of 35 show looks per year. 

As you can imagine, it’s not cheap. And very few people actually buy haute couture. Less than 500 consumers worldwide purchase pieces regularly, by essentially window shopping haute house shows during fashion weeks and collection launches. But if it really is that exclusive, then how do us common folk fit into the puzzle?


Wether intentionally or not, haute couture serves as the building blocks for other designers, high end or otherwise. While a hand sewn, hand beaded, meticulously crafted gown or blouse sounds stunning, could any of us realistically fork out hundreds of thousands for one season’s wardrobe?

In reality, haute couture reaches the average person through watered down versions. 

To quote an iconic monologue from The Devil Wears Prada, Miranda Priestly explains, “…it filtered down through the department stores, and then trickled on down into some tragic casual corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin.”

It’s fresh for us even if the real deal came out nine months ago. But there is another purpose for haute couture; commentary.


Spectacle and fashion go hand in hand. Houses know that they are constantly watched and that what they create has impact even on the people who aren’t their target markets. 

Haute couture looks are labours of love and can represent the trials and tribulations that society faces. For example, Viktor&Rolf’s SS23 featured a collection of gowns and suits that were reminiscent of cut out dresses for children’s books. Oversized illusion suit jackets, draped over both femme, masculine and androgynous models and gowns that are skewed, upside down and misplaced on bodies. 

Whole the collection is not easily wearable, that is not its main function. Instead, it can be interpreted to be nostalgic of the genderless dress up and play of childhood or demonstrating that gender itself is dress up, a costume that can be taken on and off and easily exchanged or even more literally presenting the discussion of turning femininity on its head - as you can see, haute couture provokes discussion. 

Similarly, Schiaparelli’s faux lion head gown recently worn by Kylie Jenner is loaded with sociopolitical commentary. 

The dress and other pieces from the collection feature hyper realistic animal heads that sparked controversy after the brands SS23 show in Paris this year. After confirming that no animals were harmed in the creation of the collection and that the heads were in-fact made of hand painted resin and foam, more discussion was roused. 

Was the fashion house glorifying trophy hunting or were they making a statement that the beauty of animals can be replicated and not stolen from these creatures? 

The reality of haute couture is that both of these collections sparked conversations between those deeply seated in fashion and those dipping their toes. The discussions in these collections and many others affect us all. 

Wether they be rousing social issues that try and spark change or just that the collections themselves are beautiful, we’re all talking about them and consuming them even if we don’t notice.

Edited by Emily Duff


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