The irony of covering couture shows a week after they have concluded is not lost on me, but it does present an important distinction when held up against the bi-annual ready-to-wear seasons. September and February’s fashion week calendars demand the kind of in-the-moment coverage that rarely allows you to sit with a group of thoughts, pick them apart and then recollect them to develop a substantive narrative. On the contrary, you are demanded to see something and say something, as though these off-the-rack garments are in an abandoned suitcase on a New York City subway and often, this happens at the cost of declaring a worthwhile sentiment.
Incidentally, we have tricked ourselves to believe that just saying anything is enough. But if that is true, what separates me from my shouting infant, who is loud to be sure, but incapable of enunciating a word, articulating a thought, expressing an opinion?
Couture, on the other hand, celebrates time-honored craftsmanship, hand embroidery and the artistry of many designers we know in the context of ready-to-wear but get to see flourish as couturiers. For this reason, we are (or maybe I am) less inclined to respond with exacting immediacy because, you know, these clothes take time to produce and therefore, in the name of respect, I too must take time to develop an opinion.
But forget this opinion; let’s talk about time for a second because it is truly the last frontier of that which is sacred.
Who has it? Purportedly no one. Who wants it? Effectively everyone. And so what separates ready-to-wear (which, too, is often produced by hand and with that dazzling touch that brings a dress to life; see: Chanel) from couture? This commodity — time. If part of what makes something luxurious is defined by exclusivity and we live in an era where exclusivity as we have known it is null, where fancy labels can be affordable (see: The RealReal) and new brand discovery is globally accessible (see: Instagram, Farfetch), what luxury still exists if not the mental space allotted by time affluence? (Time affluence is a concept that was coined by psychologist Tim Kasser and covered by Harvard professor Tal Ben-Shahar, who defines it as, “The feeling that one has sufficient time to pursue activities that are personally meaningful.”)
I’m having such a eureka moment right now that I don’t even know where to start. When we talk about dressing for the mental state you want, looking like a lady of leisure but not actually becoming one, taking a stroll for the sake of it, ultimately getting lost, what we are asking for is more time. The greatest treasure of all. And when you look at a couture collection — or maybe I should rephrase this: when I look at a couture collection, almost immediately am I emotionally engulfed by this illusion that I have more of it.
Why? Because it is so obvious that it took forever to make these clothes. They weren’t set on an aggressive calendar that demanded turnaround times in the sum of hours and days, not months. So I begin to fantasize about the couture designers living their quiet lives, drinking espresso at the pace of a sip per minute, stretching hours into weeks and months to sketch, source and ultimately sew because genius cannot be rushed. It makes the experience of observing a gigantic orange Valentino gown or a neon pink Giambattista Valli dress all the more satisfying.
I can’t help but marvel in the reverie of time that oozes off these clothes, even when they are jeans (Margiela); even when the designer in question has only ever produced ready-to-wear (Julie de Libran for Sonia Rykiel). It makes the nostalgia inferred by a show like Maria Grazia Chiuri’s Dior, or Armani’s Armani, or Jean Paul Gaultier’s appear as if it is there with purpose, not just for nostalgia’s sake. Like it is a real pint of ice cream, made from milk, sugar and cream as opposed to the fluff they serve at Tasti D-Lite — an arguably adequate imitation of the confectionary, but absolutely incapable of existing without the former.
This sentiment is underscored by the difference in show volume at couture. On VogueRunway.com, I counted 22 shows total. You are lucky to find 22 collection viewings in a single day on the ready-to-wear calendar. The sheer volume of brands that are represented in September and February is enough to make your head spin and opt out of following all together. Life is overwhelming as it is. Give me a few key protein options, not the whole damn meat aisle. But this is not said to suggest that we kick 90 percent of the shows off the current ready-to-wear calendars; I am simply supposing a reality accentuated by time affluence where I begin to question what I have absorbed as the status quo.
Because, really, why should I respond to a collection so quickly if it compromises my ability to make a strong point? Why should I endeavor to cover Every. Single. One? This strips the experience of what makes fashion so exceptional — that dollop of joy to mount atop your bowl of reality. Now watch closely as I eat very, very slowly.
Feature image of Valentino Fall 2018 Couture by Pascal Le Segretain via Getty Images. Runway imagery via Vogue Runway.