“Every year people say couture is dead, that there’s no longer a place for it, and every year they’re wrong,” says designer Bach Mai, on a Zoom call from his hotel room in Paris. He’s fresh off Haute Couture Fashion Week, where he viewed the collections and visited the fabric makers he uses for his eponymous New York City-based label, founded in 2021.
In 2015, Bach was first design assistant to John Galliano at Maison Margiela, where he focused on the Artisanal Haute Couture collections. Now, he applies those principles to his own designs, which have been worn on red carpets by celebrities such as Tessa Thompson and Avani Gregg (in the case of the latter, to the Met Gala); the brand will soon be available at Neiman Marcus.
Bach is part of a new wave of designers bringing couture knowledge into the broader market — and getting a lot of attention for it.
Photo: Amber Gray/Courtesy of Bach Mai
Demi-couture, which Bach Mai and many of his contemporaries would be categorized as, is basically expertly crafted garments made using the principles of couture but sold in a ready-to-wear manner. As Bach puts it, his collections uphold the spirit of couture with a wider market in mind.
“Demi-couture is kind of this intermediary space,” he says. “Couture is not just about craftsmanship; it’s a way of thinking about clothes. It’s about considering every detail.” It’s about a relationship with the client, who falls in love with and understands the uniqueness of each piece, he adds — which is different, in his mind, from an average designer and customer relationship.
Other young designers in this category — Halpern, Luchen, Harris Reed, Wiederhoeft — are seeing similar popularity. Prioritizing handwork and unique textiles — while still catering to a retailer — is what they are known for and what makes them stand out. For example, about half Halpern’s Fall 2022 collection was bespoke eveningwear that included intricate fringing techniques and the other half was a less-complicated-yet-still-cohesive version; in Vogue‘s review of the show, Anders Christian Madsen put it succinctly: “Season by season, he has strategically constructed his business by listening to the demands of the wealthy women who buy his bespoke dresses, and the retailers who sell the more accessible versions of those same ideas.”
It’s not just emerging brands that are part of the demi-couture resurgence. Established fashion houses are also bringing the category into the fold. “We have seen a resurgence with emerging brands like Koché, Maison Rabih Kayrouz and Halpern, and then with fashion houses like Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen and Marc Jacobs opening up their offering to include demi-couture,” says Rachel Glicksberg, manager of women’s fashion & new initiatives at The RealReal.
Demi-couture is not a new concept — a little over a decade ago, it got the same treatment as any other buzzword in fashion: explainers, top-ten designer lists, celebrity attention. Quickly, though, those faded into the background as social media pushed trendy clothes to the forefront; artfully crafted (and frankly, very expensive) ready-to-wear took a backseat.
Recently, it seems like more people are looking to break out of the cycle of new and trendy clothing by supporting designers who prioritize artisan work and craftsmanship. Bach Mai uses a type of velvet that can only be made on a specific loom, and there’s only one of them in the whole world. “It’s about cherishing and supporting these artisans so that these crafts will live on,” he says. “Beautiful things like that can’t be done at a massive scale, but you don’t want them to die out. It allows a place and a platform for these really skilled, specialized artisans to maintain their craft and the heritage of that.”
Photo: notpaulsimon/Courtesy of Wiederhoeft
In this way, sustainability — which is something more and more consumers are looking for in their clothing — is almost accidentally at the heart of demi-couture. Small runs of pieces you will cherish for decades, made by people whose expertise and work is being put first: What gets to the very ethos of the movement more than that?
Another reason for the rise could be the shift in fashion we saw begin in year two of the pandemic. After the thrill of sweatpants and jeans wore off, many people began to look to fashion for fantasy and escape. Glicksberg compares it to the time after the 2008 recession (when demi-couture had its most recent moment).
“There was a shift toward luxury investments,” she says. “A global pandemic has changed how we shop and what we invest in again. In times of duress, we’ve seen an uptick in customers investing in luxury, items that not only retain but increase in value. Demi-couture offers a much-needed escapism fantasy, a work of art to be treasured, held on to and eventually passed down. It’s an investment in craft, but one to feel good about, and a far cry from fast fashion.”
Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Gotham Film & Media Institute
In a way, it’s like a marriage between the scholarly and artisan parts of fashion and the sellable, more business-minded side of the industry.
From a business perspective, demi-couture can be a difficult place for designers to exist. Prioritizing craftsmanship and fabric is expensive. The amount that can be produced is small, and therefore it’s not always as lucrative as, say, a larger quantity of ready-to-wear. Bach admits that buyers who support that vision for fashion are what allow him to do this work. And, importantly, the customer-base is there.
In an email, Liane Wiggins, head of womenswear at Matchesfashion, explains that its customer has a renewed interest in one-of-a-kind styles and craftsmanship, and that the retailer has even put some investment into the trend.
Photo: Shaun James Cox/Courtesy of MatchesFashion
“We have been working really closely with Harris Reed to offer our clients a completely personal and bespoke service,” she writes. “Recently we transformed one of our private shopping floors in our Mayfair townhouse and invited our clients for one-to-one appointments with Harris and to experience his world.”
It appears that not only is couture still alive, but its offspring is just starting to blossom.
Source by fashionista.com