Kirstie Clements: Couture’s descent into shock frocks and tiny celebrities

Haute couture seems to now mean shock frocks and celebrities.

Haute couture seems to now mean shock frocks and celebrities. Photos: Getty

Fashion came out of the starting gate in 2024 with a bang this month – first with the menswear shows in Paris, followed swiftly by spring 2024 couture.

I don’t know what to make of the couture shows anymore. Haute couture exists to show the very best that a fashion house can produce, a display of the most exquisite handmade garments, the result of painstaking hours of techniques and craftsmanship, demonstrating the design genius that exists in the atelier.

But in my mind a couture garment should be worn, or at least be designed to be worn, not just appear on the runway for shock value, to stimulate clicks and likes on social media.

When I lived in Paris in the 1990s, I was lucky enough to attend the couture shows as a working journalist and was often seated next to very chic customers who literally had a little notebook and pen and would jot down the dresses and coats they were interested in trying on later.

It is the rare customer of course, who can afford couture price tags, which can start at $20,000, but the clothes were destined to be bought, and worn and loved. That all seems so old world now, as design houses have to clamour for that one moment on the runway that is going to go viral, whether it makes any sense or not.

Ugly, impractical, unwearable

The noisiest shows are the ones like Schiaparelli, where designer Daniel Roseberry sent out a robot baby, a fugly dress made of tech elements such as defunct electric motherboards, CDs and flip phones, weird pod dresses with extended necklines that handily cover the face so you can’t eat or drink or probably see, and one horrifying scaly dress that stretched over the neck and face, setting anyone off who suffered from even mild trypophobia.

Literally no one is going to be able to wear these clothes unless its Zendaya posing at a red-carpet event and she doesn’t have to sit down at any point.

The couture shows presenting clothes that are relevant, and beautiful, and able to be worn by a living, breathing customer – shows like Dior and Chanel and Armani – are written off in the social media comments as “meh”, with everybody insisting that a creation has to “slay” or break new fashion boundaries (note to the people in the comments section, there aren’t any) or to stun people with gimmicks.

I prefer to see a designer stun me with their incredible sense of colour-blocking (Valentino) or subtlety (Dior) than a big tulle puff dress that could double as a Macy’s Parade float.

It appears that it’s not even enough for a designer to send out intricate astonishing hand work, but rather place a celebrity in the front row and see if that sticks instead.

Even though the Valentino show was elegant and beautiful, it still apparently needed the presence of Kylie Jenner and her four-year-old daughter Stormi, both clad in black evening gowns, feather jackets and dark sunglasses. I repeat, Stormi is four.

Maybe they could have put the Schiaparelli robot baby in the front row instead.

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