Could couture be the most sustainable form of fashion?

Words by Hannah Cole

Illustration by Twylamae

Let’s learn a thing or two from the made-to-order model.

It’s no secret the world of haute couture is elusive, aloof, and exists only to serve those in the upper echelons. Couture garments are made for people with millions to spare (and a sprawling walk-in-wardrobe, no doubt). While the hand-stitched beaded gowns are far from my reach, I’ve been wondering recently: could couture be the most sustainable form of fashion? Do the everyday fashion labels of today need to learn a few lessons from the luxe?

It’s likely that Chanel’s President of Fashion, Bruno Pavlovksy, agrees with my hypothesis: “The concept of couture is very modern. It is about being able to design, for every single customer, the unique and the best clothes.” They’re the clothes we’ve all been searching for.

Haute couture rests on some very exclusive laurels – you must operate an atelier in Paris, with a minimum of 20 full-time employees, and produce at least 25 jaw-dropping outfits each season. At its heart though, is the idea of made-to-order, or made-to-fit-perfectly.

Let’s put aside the fact that without a doubt, many of the materials used in the construction of these pieces are not sustainable. I’d bet the beads aren’t produced from recycled glass or the feathers gleaned delicately from an ostrich electing to shed itself. Let’s also ignore the wearability of these pieces; outfit repeating is made dramatically more obvious when your gown makes such an entrance.

Instead, let’s take some learnings from the ‘made-to-order’ model. Not only does the wearer end up with the perfect, flattering fit, but overstock and excess waste are minimal. It’s the anti-fast fashion way – not producing for the sake of producing, but creating and crafting where the need and desire falls.

Consider how our approach to the clothes we wear may differ too, knowing that it’s been delicately hand-made to fit our very individual bodies. A lovingly made piece deserves respect and reverence. It’s the piece that will be worn when we don’t feel so great – wearing that one blouse we know will flatter in exactly the right way to boost the day. It’s the piece that makes you feel a bit special, and more unique, knowing that dress was stitched with you in mind.

Thankfully, there are some brands already choosing to build upon this made-to-order business. Your mum isn’t your only option.

Melbourne-based Arnsdorf re-entered the fashion industry in 2016, after a short hiatus and much considering of the current state of the industry. Now the brand offers a limited release of considered wardrobe pieces every 8-10 weeks, reducing the need for excessive inventory. Part of Arnsdorf’s model also includes personal appointments, designed to take your measurements and understand the wardrobe you wish to build. It’s the ultimate in personalisation.

Of course, there is also the French Insta-label, MaisonCléo. The cute tie-up blouses and summery separates have altered the perception of handmade clothing. It’s all fashionable and fun, instead of frumpy and faded. Once a week the e-shop opens for orders, with limits on each item based on the fabric availability (all sourced as leftovers). The tailor-made option is the answer the every big-busted gals dreams: provide your chest circumference details on ordering, and the piece will be adjusted to suit. With the likes of Emily Ratajkowski and Leandra Medine flouncing in the softly-sleeved blouses, the label is already taking off big time.

And if that’s not enough, Bedroom the Label (another Melbourne offering) also hand-makes all items to order. One range explicitly uses deadstock fabrics sourced from suppliers with limited editions or final rolls, giving a new lease of life away from landfill. While the permanent collection, a mix of wearable basics, uses natural fibres (also organic where possible) to offer the full sustainable wardrobe. Select your size, choose your height range, and away you go.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to made-to-order fashion, one I foresee growing in strength and tenacity. These pieces won’t cost your body and soul to access, but it’s kind of like gaining your very own piece of (almost) couture. Who needs Chanel when you’ve got a personalised wardrobe after all?

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