Back in January there were whispers that Gucci was working on launching a couture line but little was seen or known about the new venture until Salma Hayek stepped out in one of its creations at Cannes last week. The wine-coloured floor length silk gown with crystal embellishments – the first from the Gucci Première line – was shown to paparazzi lenses at the premiere of Robin Hood at Cannes Film Festival. As the wife of Francois-Henri Pinault, CEO of Gucci’s parent company PPR, Hayek was an obvious candidate for debuting the line, but when couture is regularly bemoaned as a dying and costly art, the decision for the ready-to-wear fashion house to move into this area is less clear. Only earlier this month did Oscar de la Renta, formerly Balmain’s couture designer, describe the artisanal practice as “irrelevant”.
But Gucci is not attempting to slavishly follow the trodden couture path, instead unapologetically making it clear from the off that the red carpet is its target. Celebrities will, in the main, be wearing these one-of-a-kind gowns, and the house is working with seamstresses and embroiderers in Paris to create the pieces. Creative Director Frida Giannini will design a capsule collection which will be renewed twice a year and, in addition, create bespoke gowns on request, but there are no plans to show on the catwalk alongside Chanel, Valentino et al. Giannini also says that the new set-up means that the house is now able to respond quickly to bespoke requests, with the ability to turn around a piece in just five days.
Purists might find all of this a little hard to swallow, but it does mark a new direction for the long-suffering bespoke fashion sector. It’s been established for some time that a couture gown is more than an exquisite, if expensive art form; it’s an effective brand statement, more likely to sell perfume than the dress itself. Gucci’s proposal sees the fashion house refining the concept by using celebrity culture as the starting point. By launching in Cannes and not Paris, the fashion house is making a statement about where it thinks the future of “couture” must be. Giannini has described Gucci Première, as the couture line has been dubbed, as an “intimate” relationship between her fashion house and the stars, but the designer can’t be in any doubt that she’ll make her mark when these stars appear in her creations on the best-dressed pages of entertainment magazines. It’s not a romantic view of couture, but right now, perhaps couture needs this kind of reality injection.