UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

After couture : crisis, collapse, and the future of fashion Young, Sandy


“Like art itself, haute couture plunged into a process of ruptures, escalations, and profound changes that related it to the avant-garde,” writes Gilles Lipovetsky in The Empire of Fashion: Dressing Modern Democracy (1987). Parisian haute couture, or high dressmaking, has long been regarded as a hallmark of the fashion industry. By contrast, ready-made garments—which prefigure modern fast fashion—are antithetical to haute couture’s association with original design and handmade craftsmanship. In response to this crisis of originality, the industry had to mobilize a legal arsenal to protect itself against plagiarists and imitators. As such, this thesis interrogates couture’s crisis of originality in the context of the industry’s litigation against fashion copies and counterfeits in the 1920s American fashion scene. Given this textured history, I maintain that the current crisis underpinning the industry is less a result of design copyright issues, as it has always had to safeguard itself against such counterfeits. Instead, I contend that the real crisis is the hyper-accelerated production mode that fast fashion champions. Against this backdrop, my thesis considers how this crisis of acceleration blurs the line between craftsmanship and design, as both processes undergo digitization, and fashion becomes increasingly dislocated from its late nineteenth-century roots in couture. However, the emergence of prêt-à-porter is a modern uprising against the hegemonic tradition of Parisian haute couture, and a prelude to modern fashion. Even though Anzia Yezierska’s Salome of the Tenements (1922) and Frédéric Tcheng’s Dior and I (2014) record a cultural structure of Parisian haute couture as the private, privileged space on one hand, and prêt-à-porter as the public space of modern, democratic fashion on the other. Yet, both texts deconstruct the false dichotomy between haute couture and ready-to-wear through democratizing fashion. This thesis argues that these two works of art invert couture’s cultural hierarchy and that modern fashion requires this other mass-produced realm for itself to exist as someplace special. Thus, for couture to maintain the artistic, the haute, it needs to create its own other. Therefore, these texts not only disrupt fashion through avant-garde creation but also intervene in a broader conversation after couture.

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