The Couture Case
Building a Firsthand Opinion of the Fashion Jungle
17th July 2020
Illustration by Rebecca Marks
Much ink has been spilled to try and convey the reality of the fashion industry, its dreamlike quality and the many sharks that swim its waters. Its status as one of the most controversial industries, the trigger of wide mental health imbalance and ecological disaster as well as its aura of glamour, of desire and beauty, allow it to remain the object of our questions and lust. Ever the dreamy wannabe reporter, I decided that the pyramid of resources centered around couture and what walking its dizzying catwalks entails lacked an essential stone to its structure: my contribution. Let us embark on the wonderful tale of how the fashion history bookworm and the hypersensitive young person currently typing away came to build a firsthand opinion of the fashion jungle.
Earlier this year, before Covid-19 broke out and our world slowly seemed to slip irremediably out of control, I had been lucky enough to be referred for a one-month June internship in a small French historical fashion house. Although I knew little about it and was not necessarily fond of the house’s flowery prints, staple of its style, I was incredibly excited. I knew it was a family brand founded in the 1950s by a talented stubborn man who’d invented a new concept for printing on wool. The house was now managed by his two now-adult daughters and I was to work under the guidance of the youngest, a no-bs no-nonsense fifty-something Parisian.
In the frenzy that followed the easing of lockdown in France, I was told my help would still be needed to help out in various stages of next year’s summer collection’s launch.
Upon arrival, I was quickly sent down to a dimly lit underground room where I was supposed to photograph and reorganize the hundreds of archives drawings that served as inspirations to the brand’s drawing studio. Needless to say, the situation was ideal. I got to hang around beautiful and quirky prints with my podcasts or awful French rap playing as loud as I wanted in the background. It was a repetitive but inspiring task that allowed me to contemplate the origins of the house’s creative process and fueled my idea that fashion is both an art and a craft.
However, many employees within the house, working either in the commercial or creative departments, started to worry for the quickly whitening shade of my tan and started calling me up the Haussmanian building’s stairs to complete tasks that would help them out. I discovered the reality of the process, from drawings to patterns and fabric sourcing, sending prototypes made on-site back and forth between the House’s offices and its factory. I loved the busy atmosphere of pre-collection launch and I tried to catch every glimpse I could. The designer’s creative process was what particularly interested me: I wanted to put my conception of fashion as an art drawn from all others, from society, music, literature or sculpture, to the test. The few times I worked with the designer, whether to help her prep mood boards for future collections or write up an English summary of the inspirations she’d drawn from to create the one we were presenting, were somewhat disappointing. I use this term with the caution and humility that my young age, lack of experience and skills imbue me with. The disappointment I felt had more to do with the codes of a world that I still want to believe poetic and sincere rather than technical and superficial. The truth of the matter is that the meaning and creativity behind the clothes, all very skillfully conceptualized and made, seemed limited. Pinterest and a few travel pictures covered the designer’s mood boards and the heated debates that often occurred between the creator and the house’s two sister-directors consequently seemed quite void of meaning to me.
I had not expected to embark on an artistic life-changing journey, and I was quite grateful to understand the technicality of the commercial imperatives that rule any brand. However, the lack of vision coupled with a true propension for drama, when the decision to change a dress by a centimeter took an hour of debate and passionate cries, somewhat cooled my enthusiasm.
I was lucky enough to be surrounded by generous and bright studio creatives who all took the time to tell me about the brand, what they thought of fashion and working life in general. A lot of them complained about the brand’s atmosphere, the never-ending debates between the founding family and the designer and the lack of communication that wounded egos provoke. They also consistently added that the house was far from the worst in the industry and that the attitudes that shocked or frustrated me were nothing but common if not mild. During the course of my internship, I participated in a myriad of marketing and communications meetings where I was able to witness first-hand the will for the evolution of not only the brand I worked at, but of the whole industry. The talk of a digital fashion show and the unique occasion the current situation represents for changing the way clothes are presented and thus made, which would inherently trigger a change in fashion’s carbon footprint, was perhaps the most interesting of my time there. Open conversations were held with various production agencies that are all competing to invent brand new ways of consuming fashion, ways that truly moved my artistic sensitivities as they all evoked the power of culture as a medium to attract attention. The scared fascination that other meetings triggered, those hour-long conversations with media agencies where the decisions to invest a few thousands of euros in Instagram influencers were taken with no outreach for more creatives alternatives, was the feeling that I would say qualified most of my internship in this strange, cruel and incredibly lucrative business of fashion.
As naïve as this short summary may have sounded, I will conclude by stating something which my perhaps dreamy and unrealistic but hopeful spirit is certain of: a new, smaller, slower and safer world of fashion has to be created in order for it to retain the nobility of its origins.