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Everything you need to know about Instagram Couture

Picture: A handpainted piece from a Juliet Johnstone colab collection, Instagram/@julietjohnstone
Picture: A handpainted piece from a Juliet Johnstone colab collection, Instagram/@julietjohnstone

“Instagram couture” is giving rise to a new era of affordable fashion that’s custom-made and even more coveted than high-end labels.

Haute couture is the epitome of opulence in the fashion realm. With a minute client base of about 4 000 people worldwide, qualifying as an official Haute Couture house is a remarkably arduous feat. The term itself translates to “high sewing” in French and refers to the art of creating exclusive, one-off garments for affluent customers ranging from heiresses to entrepreneurs.

To reach the stature of an official Haute Couture house, The Business of Fashion states that: “Members must design made-to-order clothes for private clients, with more than one fitting, using an atelier (workshop) that employs at least 15 full-time staff. They must also have 20 permanent technical workers in one of their workshops. Finally, Haute Couture houses must present a collection of no fewer than 50 original designs — both day and evening garments — to the public every season, in January and July.”

From the sketching and pattern-designing process to countless meetings, fittings and finally hand stitching, beading and embroidery, it is highly common for couture dresses to take close to 1 000 hours of handwork completed by a team of up to eight people.

Daywear usually starts at around R300 000, though it does depend on the brand – Chanel generally costs between R600 000 and R800 000 – while more ornate garments, like bridal wear, go up to as much as R1.5 million, depending on the embellishments.

For us mere mortals of the world, the exorbitant price tags and rarity of stumbling across occasions for wearing such extravagant outfits means we’ll probably never have the opportunity to wear haute couture.

Nevertheless, while we may never saunter down red carpets or attend exclusive parties in Hollywood draped head to toe in Elie Saab or Versace, the online realm has evolved into a fashion showroom of its very own. Models like Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner as well as pop star Dua Lipa have been sporting hand-painted jeans, crochet bucket hats and dainty bikinis and chunky knit sweaters as seen on their social media.

However, these brands that they’re flaunting are not designer, but instead, ‘Instagram couture’. The term is used to describe garments from small-batch clothing labels that include pieces either created from scratch by hand or vintage clothes and accessories revived with an artistic touch.

Some of the items from lesser-known brands are gifted to these celebrities in PR boxes, then displayed on social media, spurring a wave of envy across the web as people rush to get their hands on the goods.

Of course, it’s also to the benefit of celebrities who are taking on the responsibility of promoting brands that are eco-aware while receiving praise for their efforts. According to Pinterest’s search data, people are looking to copy these trendy pieces by transforming their old clothes using their own personal touches.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, fast fashion produces 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions each year and is also responsible for polluting landfills. As a result, DIY projects, thrifting, antiquing and online marketplaces have become goldmines for this group to explore and discover vintage brands, new styles and aesthetics from previous decades and, most importantly, bring an end to fast fashion.

With handwritten notes thanking buyers for their purchases, sustainable packaging and quaint websites that expose who their employees are and how their clothing items came to be, it’s clear that a significant proponent of the Instagram couture business model is promising their clients that they use ethical practices. Seeking partners and suppliers who share a common vision of sustainability, accountability and transparency, all while reinventing pre-loved clothing items with renewed vision, has only contributed to its explosive popularity.

While some of the brands selling revamped vintage pieces have added few extra zeros to their price tags, for the most part, Instagram couture is highly affordable. Anyone with creative vision, a few bottles of paint and a Pinterest board full of inspiration can recreate these gorgeous fashion pieces for themselves.

Gen Z is using the opportunity to start their own businesses taking orders from their followers and designing custom-made pieces for them. From cutting and cropping to tie-dyeing, stitching on badges, sequins and more – if you can’t get your hands on Instagram couture, you can always make your own.

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