The tale of two kinds of tailoring: Couture gets the headlines, but cruise collections are where the money is

It's unusual because, until a few seasons ago, cruise wasn't a big deal


There's an odd juxtaposition going on in Paris at the moment. The Parisian haute couture shows begin this evening; the first is Atelier Versace, and over the course of the next four days, Valentino, Chanel and Christian Dior will also showcase their wares. But last night, we saw a collection by Miu Miu, the Paris-based line designed by Miuccia Prada. It wasn't couture – it was cruise. And therein is the paradoxical dual personality of Paris this July.

It's unusual because, until a few seasons ago, cruise wasn't a big deal. "I feel like it used to be very simple. You couldn't see the clothes anywhere. You didn't even know what it was," says the New York designer Thakoon Panichgul, whose Thakoon label is worn by Michelle Obama and Demi Moore. "People were drawn to cruise before because it was a twist on a basic."

That's still the ethos of cruise, even if the clothes are changing before our eyes. More accurately "pre-spring", cruise collections consist of commercial clothes not usually shown on a catwalk. The name is derived from the point when it is delivered to stores, in November or December, just when rich customers may be holidaying in "resorts" or taking a "cruise". "It's about casual things to wear on a boat," says the milliner Stephen Jones. "It's not an haute couture collection."

Indeed, it's not. It's almost the diametric opposite. Haute couture clothes are entirely handmade, to order, for individual clients. They carry astronomical price tags – five-figure minimums, with grand evening and wedding gowns soaring past the magical, nausea-inducing £100,000 mark – and yet make no profit. That is due, simply, to the concentrated hours of specialist labour involved, as well as the expense of materials. Couture is about feats of showmanship, about creating the impossible. The tacit understanding is that it may never be worn.

More affordable fashion from Christopher Kane More affordable fashion from Christopher Kane What's the point, then? Bluntly, to generate press, and via that spin-off sales in small leather goods and all-important, one-size-fits-all cosmetics. When – and if – houses talk about their couture sales, it is not in percentages, but actual numbers of clients. The worldwide total dips as low as 300 and rises to barely 4,000.

The contrast with cruise could not be more extreme. Pre-collections now account for 60 to 85 per cent of designers' retail figures. "It's doing 70 per cent of our sales," confirms the French-born, London-based designer Roland Mouret. He presented cruise in London this summer because, he says, "It's nice to show a real vision of sales. And the price point is very specific." Namely, realistic. That's the case for everyone – that "twist on a basic" thing Thakoon is talking about. He adds: "Now that it's out in the open, it's not looked at in the same way. It has to be worked on a little bit more."

Mary Katrantzou Mary Katrantzou Perhaps that's the reason for this contrary coupling of haute couture – old school, handmade, one of a kind – with the new cash cow of cruise. There's certainly a new sophistication and depth to the cruise collections, to Mary Katrantzou's painstaking hand embroideries, to Christopher Kane's neon chiffons, to Roksanda Ilincic's easy sweatshirt shapes in elaborate fabrics. They are among the names showcasing their 2015 cruise collections in one-on-one appointments in Paris this week.

More designers are also subjecting cruise to catwalk scrutiny – besides Miu Miu, Nicolas Ghesquière showed his Louis Vuitton pre-spring collection formally, as did the houses of Christian Dior and Chanel. Yes, even the couture houses are at it.

Cruise's apeing of couture is canny – those individual appointments to show the clothes to the fashion press ooze the intimacy that couture touts as its raison d'être. Couture is yet to offer a counter argument. Maybe that's because there's a still a slightly snobby, sniffy attitude that couture competes with no one. Indeed, in technical terms it's difficult to offer a genuine alternative to a world where making even a simple day dress requires 100 hours' handiwork.

A Roksanda Ilincic design A Roksanda Ilincic design How valid is mind-boggling technique, though, if no one buys it? It's a question frequently posed in haute couture, which for the past 40 years has seemed a glorious anachronism. Yet reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated – maybe because haute couture isn't about dressing a tiny elite. It hasn't been since the 1950s. That's when licensing began to take off, when couturiers began flogging "boutique" ready-to-wear ranges, when Dior slapped his name on stockings and toured the US.

Video: The best of Haute Couture spring/summer 2014

The important thing about haute couture isn't selling the dresses, but using the dress to sell. As long as they are photographed and their relevance debated with feverish, column-filling intensity, they will still shift those perfumes and lipsticks. Those are the percentages that couturiers count.

ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

    £13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

    £18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

    Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

    £20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power