Does Couture Have to Be Sustainable Yet?

November 26, 2018

Growing up I fantasized about two things- New York City and fashion. Eloise at the Plaza lived my dream life, and Andy from the Devil Wears Prada had my dream job. Throughout middle school and high school, I liked being identified through the clothes that I wore. As a typical twelve years old, I loved wearing ponchos, vintage scarves and flared jeans. I have had a subscription to Vogue for years and worshipped the images and articles within each month’s issue. All of this lead to my choice to go to university in New York City where my dream was to be interning for a fashion company by this time in my academic career.

But, instead, I just finished up an internship with an advocacy organization and have a blog about sustainable fashion. I always think its funny how I was so adamant on my love of fashion and yet here I am.

The funny thing is though I still love fashion. Growing up, I was raised learning to love and appreciate art but had the freedom to gravitate towards any form of art I wanted, and for me it was fashion. I loved the history of style, how clothes were a catalyst for self-expression and revolution. But most of all, I loved couture as these artistic creations came to life when placed on the human form. As I have moved through sustainability, this conflict has been the thing I have struggled with the most. Can you separate couture as an art form and not identify its unethical implications? 

Alexander McQueen from the Met’s “Heavenly Bodies” Exhibit

The Short Answer

Currently, my vote is situational. It really does depend for me. If the collection is using fabrics such as animal fur then no, I don’t think couture gets to have a pass just because it’s art. Almost anything else though, I am overall ok with and here’s why.

The Long Answer

For me couture is separate from the regular fashion season shows. When Chanel’s Spring 2018 Ready-to-Wear collection was all plastic, I was outraged. That’s because those shows are the bedrock of new trends and thus, these see-through structured plastic jackets and bags were being worn by fashion influencers and thus fast fashion brands caught on too. This is unacceptable, and I believe fashion houses need to have more accountability.

But. Couture for me is in its own separate league. The pieces in couture shows are unique, one of a kind and not intended for mass production let alone inspiration for fast fashion brands. These shows focus more on the craftsmanship and art of the pieces. Because of that, I feel that designers are allowed more artistic freedom. In addition, most of the men and women creating these looks are skilled craftsmen/women and seamstresses that are fairly compensated for their skills. This is a treasured piece from start to finish. And while the fabrics might not be made ethically, I don’t believe at this time that is a battle that deserves to be fought. There are much bigger battles in my mind then interfering with art. Until we have solutions for fast fashion policy reform and accountability, I don’t feel it should be implicated on couture. When a garment is brought to market in significant quantities, made in a factory and the brand is a leader in the fashion industry that I believe constitutes a higher level of accountability.

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