You Should Be Reading: Haute Couture’s Rising Powers

The title and theme for this post was inspired from one of my grad school reads; Michael T. Klare’s “Rising Power, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy.” In his book, Klare argued that the shift in energy control (i.e. oil, petroleum and other minerals) has created a ‘new world order.’ United States, once the world’s superpower, has been replaced by the Middle East, Russia and ‘Chindia’ (China and India). Similarly, this shift as it pertains to haute couture clientele has been noted by fashion journalists from,  the New York Times, and even a scene in the “Sex and the City 2” movie where Muslim women disrobe from their burqas to reveal their couture fashions (see above photo). As one WSJ article stated: “Gone are the high-class tastes of old-world American society, the blue-blooded ladies who lunched and hosted benefits and social events in couture daywear having been replaced by new-world billionaires—from the Middle East and Russia.”

In her book, “The Face of Fashion: Cultural Studies in Fashion,” Jennifer Craik discusses the connection between status, luxury and femininity during the Industrial Revolution by saying: “Women were the visible correlate of the economic and social standing of their menfolk.” With this in mind, and in light of the Qatari royal family’s recent acquisition of the Valentino label, and also Givenchy’s Fall 2009 Haute Couture Collection, Worn Through would like to highlight emerging scholarship that discuss this growing clientele and cultural impact on designer collections. Enjoy!

1. Ourahmoune, Nacima. “Exogamous Weddings and Fashion in a Rising Consumer Culture: Kabyle Minority Dynamics of Structure and Agency.” Marketing Theory, March 2012, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 81-99.

This study critically explores the intersection of fashion consumption, gender, and wedding ceremonies in contemporary Algeria. The specific research location offers the opportunity to investigate a Western minority, the Kabyle people, living in an Arabo–Islamic country, which provides a broader spectrum of analysis and enriches understanding of the role of fashion in consumers’ identity project construction. An interpretive analysis of consumer fashion discourses and practices during wedding ceremonies suggests that rising material aspirations play a significant role and reflect marked transformations among the elite. Furthermore, the adoption of previously stigmatized outfits appears to intensify power issues in terms of gender, class, and ethnicity. Unlike in previous research that stresses a will for differentiation and the role of fashion in constructing individual identities, in this study the respondents’ choices are driven mainly by collective narratives. –Article abstract

2. Balasescu, Alexandru. Haute Couture in Tehran: Two Faces of an Emerging Fashion Scene.”  Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture, Volume 11, Numbers 2-3, June/September 2007, pp. 299-317.

This article sketches a map of the formation of taste in Iran and the circulation of desire across class and geographic borders. Focusing on haute couture production in Tehran, it focuses on the careers of two designers. Discussing their sources of inspiration and the expectations of their clients, it illustrates different understandings of fashion in the city. Ideas about modernity, tradition, and the West are reworked according to the aesthetic approaches of each designer. Modernity and mobility are linked in fashion design practices, as they negotiate the tensions between state restrictions and consumer desires for fashion, modernity and bodily mobility. The ways in which designers rework or reinterpret Iranian traditional aesthetics brings to the fore the connections between Western sensibilities and those of the upper classes in Tehran. –Excerpt from article abstract

3. McLarney, Ellen. The Burqa in Vogue: Fashioning Afghanistan.” Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Winter 2009), pp. 1-23

In the months leading up to 9/11 and in its immediate aftermath, the media demonized the burqa as “Afghanistan’s veil of terror,” a tool of extremists and the epitome of political and sexual repression. Around the time of Afghanistan’s presidential and parliamentary elections in 2004 and 2005, there were noticeable shifts in apprehensions of the burqa in the Western media. In Fall 2006, burqa images even appeared on the Paris runways and in Vogue fashion spreads. This article charts the burqa’s evolution from “shock to chic” and the process of its commodifi cation in the Western media. The article specifically analyzes Vogue magazine’s appropriation of the burqa as haute couture. -Article abstract

Image Credit: Image still from the Sex and City 2 movie, image via



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