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Decoding the term ‘couture’

India’s market for high-priced designer creations is growing with two couture weeks- HDIL India Couture Week and Pearls Infrastructure Couture Week.

fashion and trends Updated: Oct 06, 2010 15:02 IST
Vinod Nair

The third HDIL India Couture Week begins today in Mumbai. A couple of months ago, we had the first Pearls Infrastructure Couture Week in Delhi. No other country in the world has two couture weeks. Does that point to something? Yes, it does. India’s market for high-priced designer creations is only growing.

While globally, designers shy away from couture shows for many years — mainly because of hefty expenditures incurred versus smaller returns — in India, what is termed ‘couture’ is being sold at the price our fashion designers command, often running into several lakhs of rupees.

Now what is haute couture? Other than being one of the most loosely used fashion terms, not just in India but everywhere in the world, to qualify as haute couture, one has to follow a few basic parameters. To begin with, technically, one has to be in the list of names drawn by the French ministry of commerce and industry (Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie de Paris). The other parameters include refined, custom-fitted creations made with the best raw materials with trial fittings and a production facility employing at least 15 full-time people who have to be based in Paris. Also, every season, the designer should be ready with 35 handmade garments and show the same before an invited audience comprising of select media and buyers.

Money matters
Tough job? No doubt. Each garment costs thousands of dollars. Brands or designers seldom make money out of it. According to industry experts, the only brand that even manages to break even on the haute couture front today is Chanel. The rest end up doing theatrics that eventually encourage the sales of their perfumes or accessories.

Lecoanet-Hemant, a label started by Didier Lecoanet and Hemant Sagar, held their couture shows in Paris between 1984 and 2001 and eventually bowed out. “It’s ridiculously expensive to do such shows. In order to sell what you make, you first have to make your couture creations wearable with a high doze of creativity,” says Hemant. “Unless that happens, it will end up just there.”

Nothing unique
A high fashion piece has to be unique in many ways. A lot of pain and effort goes into making such creations. “Does that happen in India? I guess not. It’s all about replicating outfits by making a change here and there,” says Hemant. “I agree that the market for high fashion garment exists in India and people spend obscene amounts of money at weddings, but the question remains the same… are we seeing anything unique? Aren’t they the same old lehengas and saris with the same old embroidery at the end of the day?”

High-end style Consumerism has caught on the western designer wear market and most designers have started looking at mass level marketing as opposed to niche. This is one of the main reasons for them moving off high-expenditure shows such as couture and focusing on bridge lines or prêt more vigorously. Says Tarun Tahiliani, whose high-end creations are worn by some of the most well-known members of India’s elite brigade, “It is true that the market for high-end garments in India will never cease to exist. Also, our culture remains more ornate with possibilities. Ready-to-wear lines offer amazing fashion abroad, whereas it has not reached that level in India yet.”

With two couture weeks happening in India, and one more high-end designer week, the Aamby Valley India Bridal Week, slated to be held at the end of the month, weddings and other festivities are sure to hold these events in good stead for a long time.