At the time, Nash-Taylor notes, “No one used that word.”
“One rep used to pronounce it ‘coater,’” adds Skaist-Levy.
Ten-plus years, massive success and one Liz Claiborne Inc. buyout later, plenty of other brands are looking to ride those “custom” coattails.
“It’s pretty amazing that ‘couture’ is now the word to add to any fashion label—even food—just to make it appealing,” says Nash-Taylor. “There’s even a bathroom line.” (She’s right: It’s the AdattoCasa Couture line of pricey leather and elaborately tiled vanities.)
“‘Couture’ is part of our modern world now, and we did start that craze,” Nash-Taylor adds. “I feel kind of proud about that.”
Not everyone finds attaching a term connoting rarefied expertise to mass-produced hoodies (or worse) quite so innocuous. Even more egregious, to some, is the inappropriate use of the term by newly minted fashion “experts.” Drop a mic into the hands of some of these red-carpet insta-pundits and you’re virtually guaranteed to hear “couture” butchered beyond recognition.
“Television commentators use ‘couture’ in the way they used to use the word ‘posh,’ as in ‘Oh, she’s wearing a couture gown.’ And I personally find that a gigantic drag,” says Simon Doonan, creative director of Barneys New York. “Nothing should be called couture unless it’s got hours of handwork in it, and blood and sweat.
“Unless 500 nuns went blind beading it,” Doonan continues, “the word ‘couture’ should not be used at all.”
Perhaps because she spent 14 years as a magazine editor before transitioning to TV six years ago, Stacy London isn’t one of the serial couture abusers, although she confesses to “giggling” at those who are. “It’s an injustice to use the term incorrectly, because couture has such a rich history,” says the What Not to Wear host. “It’s just disappointing.”
Still, London can understand why, especially on TV, the true meaning of couture has become thoroughly bastardized. “Television has democratized fashion,” she says. “To not give couture its due is a shame. But at the same time, how relevant is it in pop culture—particularly to the audiences who are watching these shows?
“Couture is nice as an art form. It’s nice as an idea,” London continues. “But it’s only people in the industry who think, Wow, I never thought of velour sweatpants as made to order.”
It’s important to note that not all of the new “couture” lines are completely plebeian. Some even carry on the handcrafted, custom-fitted tradition, albeit in a less refined fashion. Flipping through the current Morgana Femme Couture catalog, for example, one is immediately struck by the sheer number of tattoos sported by the lingerie-clad models, some of whom pose languidly against a Munsters-style hearse. But here’s the backstory: The founder of the line, 32-year-old Morgana Breadman, has been sewing since the age of six. The bulk of her work, corsetry, is completely custom.