“I do it all by hand—all the beading, lace appliqués, all that,” says Breadman. “And I consider that couture. Couture is just basically French for ‘sewing.’ That’s all it really is. But it’s also about very expensive fabrics and attention to detail. A lot of care goes into it. And it’s very time-consuming. My corsets are all done by me, by hand. So I do consider myself a couturier, in that sense.”
As such, Breadman has a bit of a bee in her bonnet when similarly named lines take the easy way out. “They might only be T-shirt makers—it’s not couture at all,” she says. “It’s just mass printing, and they slap the word ‘couture’ on the end of their name. Often I wonder if they even know what ‘couture’ means.” And if they do know, do they even care? Until another trendy fashion word appears—and “bespoke” is barreling down the tracks—there’s every chance that “couture” will suffer the same fate as that other French goodie, “champagne.”
“The problem with ‘couture’ is that if you leap to the defense of the word, people will perceive you as some horrible elitist,” says Doonan, who leaps nonetheless.
“The value of the couture comes from the fact that it preserves the notion of craft in fashion,” he says. “It’s not the fact that it’s a bunch of rich ladies hurling money at the Paris collections. And it’s not the fact that the misuse of the word is blurring the distinction between a dress from Strawberry that’s $19.99 and one that’s $40,000. I don’t care about any of that.
“Crafts are holy,” Doonan continues. “I feel exactly the same way about couture as I do [about] old hippies in Big Sur making tooled leather belts or American Indians making beautiful blankets. Exactly the same reverence should be attached [to couture]. Not because it’s posh. Not because it’s expensive. But because it’s done by hand, and it’s a dying art.”