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How has Haute Couture changed in 2021?

From the arrival of menswear to the newfound sobriety of the shows, passing through multiculturalism and collaborations

How has Haute Couture changed in 2021? From the arrival of menswear to the newfound sobriety of the shows, passing through multiculturalism and collaborations

Haute Couture is rightly considered the last bastion of traditional fashion. With an estimated number of 4000 private customers all over the world, Haute Couture is a tight and impenetrable circle and, until recently, also one of the most "conservative" areas of fashion, complete with very precise rules on how many workers should be present in the atelier and how many looks should be sent to the catwalk, divided between day and evening looks. An ancient and very important heritage that even in the depths of our post-industrial era preserves the charm of craftsmanship – but which is much less immobile than you might think: one of the principles of couture is in fact that of having to adapt to the times and, to a certain extent, evolve with them. 

How is modern Couture?

The Couture season that just ended with Valentino's show in Venice, in particular, was a perfect example of how fashion is looking for a balance between tradition and the modernity of couture and all the most interesting collections seen this season have asked themselves this question: from Pierpaolo Piccioli who adopts a transversal collaborative model that brings contemporary painters of all ages at Valentino's atelier; to Demna Gvasalia who resurrects the ancient Balenciaga alongside the new, trying to modernize the Couture with everyday garments such as jeans and handmade t-shirts; up to Pyer Moss who instead celebrates Black Culture through a series of surreal clothes-symbols and Chitose Abe who becomes a "guest couturier" and momentarily takes control of Gaultier's atelier. 

In the face of a series of final results always up to the tradition of Haute Couture that the Chambre Syndicale French sends out, it is interesting to note the way in which many brands have tried to modernize, without distorting it, its tradition. One of the most remarkable traits of this season, for example, was the arrival of menswear on the catwalk: if Valentino had already brought it back last year and brought it back this year and Balenciaga reintroduced it naturally, even two more purist couturiers such as Giambattista Valli and Azzaro have adapted it this year, together with Kim Jones who for his second Couture collection introduced two men's looks. The message is clear: Haute Couture is aimed at everyone – men included. That the man had become the new customer of Haute Couture was no mystery: in an article by WWD last February, Dolce & Gabbana told how its tailor-made Haute Couture services were equally divided between the classic female and male clientele. But this season the talk has been carried on again, trying to propose artisanal and customizable luxury products by creating a new category of products "higher" than the regular prêt-à-porter.

The other novelties of modern couture concern instead of the concepts and methods, which therefore maintain the formal rigour of classic Haute Couture but without its ideological rigidity, opening up to new concepts of collaborative creation, to the idea of multiculturalism and gender fluidity but also to new markets and clientele.  These collections also reflect a change of ethos within the fashion world: both the mixture of low-high and the successful integration of the model of collaboration have in fact been the cornerstones of the concept of new luxury brought by streetwear within mainstream fashion. Their presence in the context of Couture represents the definitive settlement of a new culture – or the updating of the old one.

New world, new language

Finally, we must emphasize another change that has taken place, which is that of the aesthetic language of the shows themselves. If at the time of Karl Lagerfeld and John Galliano, that is, in the early 2000s, the show couture was pharaonic and spectacular ostentation of virtuosity, with steam trains and hot air balloons that crossed the catwalk, bronze lions and gigantic sculptures and literal woods or pirate ships transported in the middle of Paris, this year the sophistication has remained but without all the noise. Modern Couture has kept a distance from the larger-than-life theatricality of the past to find a clearer, more intimate, and suitable language for the times – giving Haute Couture the opportunity to express itself at its best and address a market of younger customers who have the same passion as traditional ones, with a unique appreciation of the personal and experience component of authentic Haute Couture.