The Problem With Fast Fashion Mimicking Couture

by: Rosie Dalton | 1 year ago | Features

Image: Kendall Jenner walking for Chanel Couture. Image source

Earlier this week we reported that Japanese fast fashion brand Zozotown was gearing up to launch its in-house line Zozo – the proposition for which is ‘custom’ fast fashion. By sending customers a Zozosuit to try on, the company will reportedly capture data about their specific measurements, which can be used to improve a garment’s fit. But the problem with fast fashion brands mimicking the bespoke tailoring of couture is that it ultimately positions this cheap clothing as being more desirable than it is.

Couture is essential for fashion to remain an art form. As a tradition that dates back to the 1850s, couture refers to the craft of handmaking garments in an atelier. Rigorously governed by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris, most genuine couture houses have an atelier filled with skilled petites main – the artisans who specialise in different areas like embroidery, millinery and more. So while made-to-fit fast fashion might be ‘tailored’ in some way, it will never replicate the craftsmanship involved in true couture.

Considering the recent changes to the Couture Fashion Week schedule in Paris, however – not to mention the lack of awareness around what actually constitutes ‘couture,’ it is becoming increasingly easy for powerful fast fashion retailers to trick customers into thinking that their garments are more desirable than they actually are.

“It’s 2018, and there’s so much technology that enables us to truly make custom clothes for people, and bring an entire new experience to market,” claims Masahiro Ito, who oversees Zozotown’s research and development efforts. But this is just the sort of rhetoric that’s designed to confuse customers. Because will Zozo’s clothes really be ‘custom’ – as is the case with genuine couture? Or will they actually just be the same cheaply made pieces we are used to seeing in fast fashion stores, but with one small difference: that they actually fit?

Making clothes that reflect the real world measurements of your customers is certainly not a bad thing, but it also is not couture. Nor does it represent the craftsmanship inherent in fashion’s origins as an art form. It is no secret, of course, that as sustainability becomes cooler, fast fashion brands are more likely to greenwash. With that said, though, we need to be wary not only of the greenwashing, but also of clever marketing manipulation as well. And that is precisely what’s taking place here.

Unless we see some very major structural overhauls throughout the fast fashion sector, then this clothing will continue to be governed by low costs and high speed. Which is inherently problematic. Because if ‘custom’ fast fashion is to be the new trend and people are to perceive garments less than $100 as aspirational, then people and the planet will be forced to continue paying the price for the corners that are cut along the way. Fortunately, some couture houses have begun pushing back against the fast fashion machine, though, by celebrating craftsmanship on the international stage.

Dior’s recent couture show, for example, was in reaction to fast fashion and fast trends. "These are serious clothes ... made by the finest hands and meant to be appreciated by women who are beyond the flimflam and easy glam of our times," Vogue wrote of Maria Grazia Chiuri’s show. And the designer herself said that, with couture, “we have this big opportunity to work with a different definition of time. Craftsmanship is long; it is a dream for a future.” And therein lies the real difference between couture and the mass-produced fast fashion, to which we have become accustomed today.


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