Historically, haute couture has always been the pinnacle of creativity, prestige, and exclusivity in the fashion world. It has been structured and governed with the utmost intensity since the founding of Paris’s Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCM) in 1868. The few fashion houses that are diligent enough to be granted membership–Chanel, Gaultier, Dior, and Margiela, to name a few–must create a collection each season featuring at least 50 original designs made for private clients, each requiring multiple fittings. The process of constructing every one of these looks takes multiple staff members, hundreds of hours, and thousands of meters of fabric. To the majority of the fashion world and the general public, haute couture serves a purpose like that of art in a museum; existing to be admired, but never attained. 

Ironically enough, the extensive regulations and requirements involved in haute couture are enforced with the intention of granting the highest form of creative freedom, at least to the select few houses. Haute couture membership grants these houses the opportunity to research, experiment, and innovate without the traditional boundaries. Approved houses are provided with resources on all fronts. This support system ultimately results in the trickle-down effect from inaccessible haute couture to ready-to-wear collections, stylistic inspirations, and trends for future shows. Put plainly, the world of haute couture is the bougiest of the boujee, kept under lock and key, unattainable for creators and clientele outside the appointed elite. Or so we thought…

This year, Area has broken the barriers of traditional haute couture rules. The NYC based indie brand was founded in 2014 by Parsons alumni Beckett Fogg and Piotrek Panszcyzk. Specializing in textile development, craftsmanship, and embellishing, the brand’s take on modern abstract glamour is inspired by celebrating the evolution of beauty ideals, exemplified through unique designs and the hiring of diverse models. Self-described as “multi-faceted; witty, inherently glamorous, playfully decadent and injected with a pop energy,” Area is a brand that pays attention to the times, especially through its consideration of sociocultural revolutions and contemporary fashion trends. Area’s ‘About’ page declares: “The brand shares its name and spirit with the iconic 80s Manhattan nightclub, known for its fusion of art and performance in conceptually-themed nights, attracting an eclectic mix of uptown and downtown scenes along with international celebrities.” Area’s preceding collections have always contained couture-esque elements, featuring sculptural silhouettes all over their runways since the brand’s birth. 

The 2020 pandemic brought our world to a standstill on all fronts, including, of course, the fashion industry. Thankfully, even in the first month of 2021, the business has picked up speed with Area at its forefront. The brand unofficially closed the SS21 haute couture season with their first couture launch, and they did not disappoint. Showing alongside couture houses without being part of the official schedule, Area successfully breached its walls, disregarding the archaic pretension of its exclusivity. Refusing to abide by normalized schedules, Area is restructuring to a see-now, buy-now RTW cadence and strengthening their direct-to-consumer e-commerce. Instead of having in-person couture fittings like the haute couture rule book demands, Area is adapting to pandemic fashion and instead building dress forms personal to the client. Honoring their philosophy of acknowledging social evolution, Area’s actions as a company have taken strides to break traditions, and their debut couture collection represents the same principles.

The collection conveys a celebration of individuality. Each look on its own stands loud and proud, as couture should; as a collective, the beauty of one look is never stifled by another. This message remains consistent through every aspect of the collection. The two models, Yasmin Wijnaldum and Precious Lee, both exude confidence and grace, carrying the clothes with a consistently powerful demeanor. Wijnaldum and Lee are women of color with extremely different body types and equally striking beauty. The sister looks that they showcase differ in structure and silhouette in order to compliment their respective features. In an article for Dazed, Panszczyk explains, “Couture has always been about presenting one type of body that people thought was this aspirational dream. But for us, it was really important that it was about custom fit, about the body and its differences.” The garments quite literally “highlight” the figure with various textile manipulations consisting of Swarovski crystals, and lots of them. The crystalized tubes drape across their bodies as if made for them, because, well, they were. They revisited the use of crystal crochet seen in their AW20 collection. The accordion dresses are nothing short of sculptures, abstracting the garment’s traditional form while still echoing the models’ body shape. I, for one, am a big, big fan. Could you tell?

Accepting change has always been humanity’s greatest difficulty. We are drawn to comfort, and that will always be our biggest weakness. Art is meant to challenge that aspect of the human condition. It’s meant to push the boundaries, protrude from the comfort zone, and revolutionize the world. When art is restricted, resistance is inevitable. Area Couture reminds us of this necessary cycle, breaking tradition to promote growth and stimulate change. 

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