Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sartorial Statements: Is Western Fashion the Only Fashion?

PCJ Delhi Couture Week


 Paris Fashion Week - Christophe Karaba / EPA

It is very obvious that the future of the luxury goods industry, e-commerce and fashion all lie in Asia. E-commerce sites are fighting over who will win the battle of the market share all across Asia (see last week's Sartorial Statement), while famous European brands are highly dependent on an ever-increasing stream of Asian customers and are refocusing their branding and marketing efforts accordingly. But where are the Asian luxury brands and couture houses? Why is it that in order to be considered a luxury good or a haute couture house, the brand must be European? This is particularly true for haute couture, which is closely regulated by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. Similar to the way "champagne" must come from the Champagne region of France, to be considered haute couture, a designer's house must be registered with the Chambre Syndicale. In order to register, the design house must maintain an atelier in Paris. These rules ensure that only designers whose clothing is western enough to be approved by the Chambre Syndicale will be considered haute couture. 

The Business of Fashion recently ran an article about the fashion weeks in India, Singapore and China which feature local high-end designers. In response, the chairman of the Chambre Syndicale  said “They [India] have a different concept of what couture is. It’s also very classic and not as exciting as what we show here in Paris. As for what they show in Singapore, that’s something else. It’s not haute couture, it’s a kind of ready-to-wear. It’s well done; clever; it has its position. But it is not really couture.” This statement is ridiculous and smacks of old European imperialism. While certainly Paris Fashion Week shows off its designers' hand-made garments, all of the haute couture houses have extensive ready-to-wear lines which produce most of their garment-based profits, and their ready-to-wear shows are promoted just as heavily as their couture shows. Moreover, the shows in China or India are every bit as exciting from an artistic perspective as what is being produced in the Western world. The designs are simply based on clothing constructs from a different culture and, particularly in India, must accommodate certain levels of modesty. To say that these shows are not "exciting" is to display an alarmingly narrow artistic perspective.

Asia may appreciate all that Europe has done to create and market the concept of luxury goods and the world of high fashion/haute couture. However, instead of using their purchasing power to simply enhance the egos and revenues of old European luxury purveyors, they should use their purchasing power to force the industry to recognize that Asia has its own artistic and design background - one that should be considered an equal to the west.

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