Arts and Culture

Haute Couture: Fashion as Performance Art

Esther Okorocha

Image Source: Dazed

Paris’ Haute Couture Week, one of fashion’s “Big Four” global Couture shows, took place 27th February – 7th March. It was full of highs and lows (quite literally with a model stumbling on the Valentino runway), stunning designs, and Kylie Jenner wearing a fake lion head in Schiaparelli’s front row. 

The faux lion-head and black velvet bustier gown in question, which Irina Shayk also wore on the runway, was among two other animal-inspired looks featured in the collection. Supermodel Shalom Harlow walked in a snow leopard bustier whilst Naomi Campbell wore a black she-wolf coat. 

Images of Kylie arriving at the show hit the internet, soon sparking controversy and debate; whilst some were quick to have fun with her look, many argued that the designs created by Daniel Roseberry (creative director of the Italian fashion house Schiaparelli), glamorised wildlife trophy hunting and the taxidermy of wild animals. 

Roseberry took to Schiaparelli’s Instagram page and assured their followers that “NO ANIMALS WERE HARMED IN MAKING THIS LOOK.” Even PETA came to Schiaparellli’s defence, with President Ingrid Newkirk arguing that “Kylie, Naomi, and Irina’s looks celebrate the beauty of wild animals and may be a statement against trophy hunting, in which lions and wolves are torn apart to satisfy human egotism.” Adding that “These fabulously innovative three-dimensional animal heads show that where there’s a will, there’s a way. We encourage everyone to stick with 100% cruelty-free designs that showcase human ingenuity and prevent animal suffering.”

Although the hyper-realistic animal heads were “hand sculpted foam, wool and silk faux fur, and hand-painted to look as real life as possible”, as stated in a post from Schiaprelli’s Instagram, the uproar over the design led to questions about the purpose of haute couture fashion. 

Originating in 1858 Paris by Charles Frederick, haute couture (which translates to “high sewing”) is the pinnacle of sartorial design. “Its primary field of interest being handmade work accomplished within these Houses’ workshops, a laboratory for ideas and techniques, a space where creativity can flourish freely”. As High Fashion Twitter user Rina explains, “it is likely that the only time you’ll see the gowns will be [on] red carpets when worn by celebrities … they’re meant to be appreciated like art” where fashion houses “can truly show the craftsmanship and creativity of the designer”. 

While the value of visual art is often contested, the art of fashion always seems to face more criticism than other forms. Another HFT, Chloe Kennedy, in agreement writes that “It really proves how people undervalue fashion as an art form and reduce it solely to consumerism because hyperrealism in other visual arts is hardly ever debated at this scale”. 

While fashion that is only accessible to the 1%, ultra-wealthy, and unseen billionaire class from all over the world may seem worthless, its aim is to create spectacle and push the boundaries of fashion. Haute couture is a representation of fashion for fashion’s sake at its best. Shouldn’t that be worth something?

Categories: Arts and Culture

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