With all the financial woes of the European Union grabbing headlines, it’s no surprise to see Haute Couture, the pinnacle of the most expensive and high quality bespoke fashion, making aggressive inroads to Asia, through Singapore.

Not that any of us are complaining. We’re more than happy to gawk, even if we can’t shell out the money for a typical creation of the 8 French couturiers who flew here to show their collections for first time. MaximeSimoens, Atelier Gustavolins, Eymeric Francois, Christophe Josse, Dominique Sirop, Alexis Mabille, Anne Valerie Hash and Stephane Rolland were the toast of the inaugural Women’s Fashion Week 2011 at the Marina Bay Sands from Oct 26 to 31, coming 6 months after the first Men’s Fashion Week here.

Likening the exclusivity of Haute Couture (pronounced ‘oht koo-toor) to celebratory bubbly, Director of Operations for Haute Couture week, a highlight of the fashion week, Benedict Goh told UrbanWire, “It’s a very protected entity and it can never be replicated. For instance, if you’re a sparkling wine out of France, you can’t even call yourself champagne, you’re just sparkling wine.”

Benedict Goh, Director of Operations for the inaugural Women’s Fashion Week 2011, Singapore

In fact, strictly speaking, Champagne is produced only using grapes from a particular region within France. The same rarified tier is occupied in the fashion world by the one-of-a-kind creations by leading fashion houses, labelled Haute Couture.

Alexis Mabille, Couturier

French couturier Alexis Mabille, who showed off his Autumn collection, tells UrbanWire: “Couture is about having a relationship between the client and the designer.” Frank Cintamani, Chairman of Women’s Fashion Week, added, “It is a necessity in the industry, for the fashion industry to survive.”

Frank Cintamani, Chairman of Women’s Fashion Week

An Haute Couture piece is a guarantee that the clothes made specifically for you is also a unique design. Not just any designer can call himself a ‘couturier’ because it’s a distinction that has to be earned under strict guidelines. One of which includes creating his own masterpieces within his own workshop (atelier) with a staff of at least 15 people. But that itself doesn’t cut it. The designer also has to present a collection consisting of both day wear and evening wear for each season. Needless to say, a lot of hard work goes into fulfilling these criteria and with it, the right to create one of a kind, exquisite and very exclusive items for moneyed clientele. Couture pieces can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is enough to buy you an apartment or a sports car.

For most of us, most ready-to-wear (or prêt-à-porter in French) collections are based on couture lines, only priced more affordably to cater to the masses. So even if you’re dressed in Giordano, Uniqlo or some other more everyman label, chances are they drew inspiration from Haute Couture somewhere up the line, even if you didn’t realise it.

An exhibition that showcased designs from Herve Leger to Max Mara and even Robinsons was free for the public to view. It was set up within The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands for those who couldn’t attend the shows during Haute Couture week. Lasting till the end of October, it served as a platform for the general public to find out more.

And so, education of the public about the designs you can’t find in your usual retail outlets or over the Internet was what this spotlight is all about. Benedict Goh stressed that, “We want the public to know that Haute Couture exists”, a fact lost on most because few can afford it, and it “is presented to only very few”.

Photos courtesy of Gabriel Goh.

It is also in-keeping with Singapore’s growing identity as a fashion capital. You might be surprised to know, especially given our sloppy image of a nation of slip flop wearers, that Global Language Monitor (GLM) has placed Singapore as the 8th fashion capital in the world and one spot above trendy Tokyo. That is something most people might find difficult to swallow. It’s unbelievable that we have surpassed the mother of fashion in Asia.

Singapore’s Haute Couture Week is the first of such showcases outside of Paris but that is definitely not the end of it because plans have already been made to hold more fashion weeks next year!