By: Ammara Bokhari
Within the past few decades, Pakistan has transformed itself within its fashion industry, breeding incredible new talent and paving way for a design revolution. In the likes of painting, sculpture or architecture, fashion design is certainly an art form. Employing creative minds to produce new designs, it invokes a sense of style while influencing the world. If fashion is an art form then haute couture is certainly its finest form of art.
Pakistani fashion is an industry at its peak, set to flourish only further. With the popularity of design schools on the rise, Pakistan has harbored a breadth of talented designers. These designers create ready-to-wear collections- garments produced in mass with standard sizes, which can be tailored to customization and the ever-popular bridal collections- elegant wedding dresses customized to your suiting. In recent years, many young and well-known designers in Pakistan have been creating haute couture collections as well. The term haute couture is a growing phenomenon in Pakistan among designers, particularly young designers, who have acquired great fame within the past few years.
Haute couture [pronounced awt-coo-tour, with the h being silent] is a French term that directly translates to “high fashion”. It refers to a designer’s creation of exclusive custom-fitted clothing and is made to order for a specific customer. What differentiates this from your local bazaar tailor in every city of Pakistan? Well, haute couture is particularly made using high-quality, expensive fabric and sewn with extreme attention to detail and finish. The designs are hand-made with utmost quality, precision, and not to mention beauty. It can never be copied and therefore, holds a one-of-a kind distinction, not to mention one hell of a hefty price tag, adding even more to its appeal and exclusiveness.
Pakistani designers have rolled out with haute couture collections alongside their ready-to-wear and bridal collections, instantly claiming praise and transforming their status to elite. It seems to be an almost marketing tool. When I come across designers and learn of their haute couture collections, I instantly recognize them as one of Pakistan’s best, their couture line only adding to the glitz. These designers certainly have an eye for fashion and create beautiful pieces. However, I begin to wonder, a term of such high exclusivity in Paris, has been used so freely in Pakistan- what claim to these young designers have in proving they have reached the position and level of expertise in fashion to call themselves masters of the art of couture? Many of these young designers have only recently, within the past decade, graduated from fashion design schools in Pakistan, albeit some with degrees particularly in couture. Does a degree, alongside with fame, constitute the couture label? Having an haute couture wedding dress in Pakistan has turned into a trend with young bride-to-be’s.
But there is a huge difference with the world of haute couture in Pakistan and the world of haute couture in Europe, particularly Paris where it originated. In France, the term is protected under law. A special chamber has laid out specific rules a designer must follow in order to use the term haute couture. These rules include: having a workshop in Paris, presenting an haute couture collection in Paris twice a year, each collection having at least 35 designs, for both daytime and evening wear, and designing made-to-order garments for private clients with multiple fittings. I recently watched a one-hour special on haute couture and the secret world behind it on BBC and was surprised to learn that if clothes aren’t handmade in Paris, they cannot be called haute couture. As of this year, there are 12 official members of the trade union of haute couture, all European, with four correspondent members, including Elie Saab from Lebanon, the only designer outside of Europe, and several other guest members.
Haute couture houses include but are not limited to: Chanel, Christian Dior, Jean Paul Gaultier, Giorgio Armani, Valentino, and Givenchy. You may recall some of these names, and recognize that these design houses are the crème-de-la-crème of European fashion. Their names have been engraved in timeless fashion since WWII. Granted, I realize Pakistan is still a young country. And yes, it has immensely flourished in its fashion industry with young designers tastefully ruling the market. But I wonder- have these designers truly reached the status and experience to create haute couture lines and claim to have “couture houses” like Chanel, Armani, and Dior have respectfully been doing? Perhaps the term has simply been transformed into a trend in Pakistan- an exclusive marketing tool- to appeal to the elite who can afford to indulge in this fine art. A fine art- that will only continue to thrive…