“Every year people say couture is dead and that there’s no longer a place for it, and every year they’re wrong,” says designer Bach Mai, speaking from his hotel room in Paris while participating in a Zoom chat. “Every year they’re wrong.” He just returned from Haute Couture Fashion Week, where he observed the shows and met with the fabric manufacturers he works with for his namesake label, which was established in 2021 and is situated in New York City.
Bach began working as John Galliano’s first design assistant at Maison Margiela in 2015, and during that time he mostly focused on the Artisanal Haute Couture line. Now, he applies the same concepts to his own creations, which celebrities like Tessa Thompson and Avani Gregg (the latter of whom wore one of his designs to the Met Gala) have worn on red carpets; the brand will soon be available at Neiman Marcus.
Bach is a part of a new generation of designers who are gaining a lot of attention for bringing couture expertise to a wider market, and she is one of those designers.
One of the looks from the Resort 2023 collection by Bach Mai.
Demi-couture, which is essentially beautifully produced clothing manufactured utilizing the principles of couture but offered in a manner that is more appropriate for ready-to-wear, is a category that would be used to describe the work of Bach Mai and many of his colleagues. According to Bach, his collections preserve the spirit of couture while keeping a wider clientele in mind. 
According to him, demi-couture occupies “this type of this transitional region.” “Craftsmanship is only one aspect of couture; more importantly, it’s a frame of mind when it comes to clothing. It’s about paying attention to every little thing.” It is about a relationship with the client, who falls in love with and knows the uniqueness of each piece, he says. This is distinct, in his perspective, from a typical interaction between a designer and a consumer, as the client falls in love with and appreciates the individuality of each work.
Similar success is being had by a number of other young designers working in this field, including Halpern, Luchen, Harris Reed, and Wiederhoeft. They are distinguished by the fact that they give handwork and one-of-a-kind textiles a higher priority than they do the needs of retailers, which is what makes them famous. For instance, approximately half of Halpern’s Fall 2022 collection was bespoke eveningwear that included intricate fringing techniques, while 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
Backstage at the Fall 2022 show by Halpern, which took place during London Fashion Week.
The rebirth of demi-couture is being driven by more than just newer firms in the industry. Established fashion houses are also becoming involved in the area. [Case in point:] [Case in point:] According to Rachel Glicksberg, manager of women’s fashion & new initiatives at The RealReal, “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.
The idea of demi-couture has been around for a while; approximately ten years ago, it was given the same amount of attention as any other fashion buzzword, including explanations, top-ten designer lists, and celebrity interest. Artfully created (and, to be honest, quite pricey) ready-to-wear took a backseat as the latest trends in clothing were brought to the forefront by social media. This caused those to quickly disappear into the background.
Supporting designers who place an emphasis on artisan work and workmanship appears to be a growing trend among consumers who are looking for ways to escape the rat race of constantly buying new and fashionable items. The sort of velvet that is used by Bach Mai can only be created on a certain loom, and there is only one of those looms in existence across the entire planet. “It’s about cherishing and supporting these artisans so that these crafts will carry on,” he says. “It’s about making sure that these traditions are kept alive.” “You don’t want lovely things like that to become extinct, but you can’t do them on a large enough scale to preserve them. It gives these extremely skilled, specialized artists a location to work and a stage from which they may continue to preserve their trade and the history associated with it.”
One of the looks from the Pre-Spring 2023 collection by Wiederhoeft.
Because of this, sustainability, which is something that an increasing number of customers are seeking in the apparel they purchase, is almost accidentally at the heart of demi-couture. Small editions of pieces that will be treasured for many years to come, crafted by individuals whose abilities and efforts are prioritized: What else gets closer to the core values that underlie the movement than that?
The shift in fashion that started around the second year of the epidemic may be another factor contributing to the increase. After the novelty of wearing sweatpants and jeans had worn off, a lot of individuals started looking to fashion as a form of fantasy and escape. Glicksberg likens it to the period following the economic downturn in 2008 (when demi-couture had its most recent moment).
She claims that there was a movement toward luxury investing. “There was a shift,” she says. “Because of a global pandemic, our shopping habits and investment choices have had to adapt. During difficult economic circumstances, we have noticed a rise in clients investing in luxury goods, which not only hold but also improve in value over time. The fantasy of demi-couture provides much-needed escapism and is a piece of art that should be cherished, preserved, and finally handed down from generation to generation. It’s an investment in craft, but it’s one that will make you feel good, and it’s a world away from fast fashion.”
Tessa Thompson attended the 2021 Gotham Awards while dressed in Bach Mai.
Image courtesy of Getty Images/Dimitrios Kambouris to the benefit of The Gotham Film & Media Institute.
It’s almost like a marriage between the academic and artisanal aspects of the fashion industry, on the one hand, and the marketable and business-oriented aspects of the industry, on the other.
It can be challenging for designers to make a living in the demi-couture market, especially from a financial standpoint. It will run you more money to prioritize craftsmanship and cloth. Because of the limited quantity that may be manufactured, the potential for profit is not necessarily as high as it would be with, for example, a bigger quantity of ready-to-wear. Bach is honest about the fact that he is only able to continue working in the fashion industry thanks to customers who share his vision for the industry. And perhaps most significantly, the client base already exists.
In an email, Liane Wiggins, head of womenswear at Matchesfashion, explains that the company’s customers have a renewed interest in one-of-a-kind styles and craftsmanship and that the retailer has even put some investment into the trend. Wiggins also mentions that Matchesfashion has made some investments in the trend.
The townhouse that belongs to MatchesFashion and is located in the Mayfair region of London was taken over by the fashion brand Harris Reed.
According to what she writes, “we have been working really closely with Harris Reed in order to offer our clients a service that is truly personal and personalized.” “Recently, we changed one of our private retail floors in our Mayfair townhouse, and we welcomed our customers to experience Harris’s world and have one-on-one appointments with him.”
It would appear that not only is the art of couture still practiced today but its progeny is only beginning to emerge.
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