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Can Haute Couture Come Alive In Nigeria?

Can fashion be art?

If you know anything about fashion or have been paying attention to what’s going on in the fashion world, then you may have heard the words haute couture (pronounced “oat koo-tyoor”) before. This term, however, is misused more often than not.

The most common misconception is that haute couture simply means that a garment is handmade. But the fact that something is handmade doesn’t make it haute couture. There are other details involved that give it so much prestige in the eyes of fashion lovers.

Valentino at Paris Spring Haute Couture Week. Photo Getty Images

By definition, haute couture means “fashion constructed by hand from start to finish, made from high quality, expensive fabric, and sewn and finished with extreme attention to detail by the most experienced and capable sewers, often using time-consuming, hand-executed techniques.”

Couture items take anything from 100-700 hours to create and require very detailed measurements and multiple fittings. Requiring exquisite workmanship, a whole team of people can work on one garment, cutting, sewing and hand-stitching the details. It is a show of ultimate craftsmanship and creativity.

Because of this, it can be very costly, highly impractical and often unwearable. Haute couture fashion can be part of a carefully executed business strategy with its ability to generate tremendous publicity for a fashion house. This then leads to higher sales in their ready-to-wear collections, which usually include simplified, more affordable versions of couture pieces.

Giambattista Valli at Paris Spring Haute Couture Week. Photo Getty Images

Haute couture in France is a legal term which means that any item bearing the name has passed a series of criteria. It requires a made-to-order design for private clients. The fashion house must have a workshop in Paris that employs at least 15 technical members of staff full-time in at least one workshop (atelier). Every fashion season, they must present a collection of at least 35 original designs to the public, both day and evening garments.

Wearing haute couture is an aspirational symbol of power and prestige reserved for those whom money is no object. The people who buy it regularly do not advertise themselves, and professional haute couture fashion houses do not release their client list.

But is the average Nigerian client wired to appreciate the artistry and the skill of these pieces? Our “wear only once” society and social media make buying haute couture items seem more like an investment, similar to buying great art.

Ralph & Russo at Paris Spring Haute Couture Week. Photo Getty Images

There are a few options for those who cannot afford millions of naira on a dress. The last decade has seen a rise in what is known as demi-couture fashion which is created using the same handmade craftsmanship of haute couture but without individual fittings. The pieces also appear on the runways alongside the ready-to-wear collections.

A number of proudly-Nigerian designers like Deola Sagoe and Mai Atafo have taken to this practice. They offer those on more limited budgets several options and exclusive made-to-order garments to purchase. Although this means that the word couture gets thrown around a lot, it is an impressive step towards bringing it alive in Nigeria.

Now that you know all about haute couture, you’ll have people thinking you’re one of the fashion experts!

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