Clark Kent vs. Superman: Unmasking the Actual Superheroes of Haute Couture

Dean Liggett, Helena Britt (Editor), Kevin Almond (Editor), Laura Morgan (Editor)

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


This research intends to rectify the ‘off-the-record’ status of contemporary artisanal textile innovators by recording and analysing their professional work experience, personal narratives and design output. The luxury value, quality and aesthetics of haute couture are frequently exhibited through the textiles created by hand, requiring exceptional skills and creativity. The continued reliance on hand skills is in contrast to the modern industrialised technological age. ‘Artisanal’ as a prefix is ubiquitous and used today by diverse industries as a marketing tool but is significantly absent in the reporting of haute couture collections.

Luxury brands that produce couture collections, highlight an illusion of the handmade, but currently the strategy of naming fabric creators is rarely manifested within the realms of haute couture. Historically couture houses did acknowledge and credit their textile collaborators, so the question is ‘when and why has this practice changed?’ Consequently, the makers of the luxury textiles are now largely unknown and equally undervalued. Are these practitioners the ‘Clark Kent’s’ of fashion, anonymously applying their artisanal skills for the accreditation of ‘Superman’ who comes in the guise of the celebrity designer and luxury fashion label?

To ascertain the contemporary contributions of makers, who continue to exhibit handmade artistry within the couture industry, primary material and sources, the generosity of individual textile designers, couturiers, established European ateliers and museum collections are employed to demonstrate an overview of current collaborative systems. In the context of today’s cultural climate, with its celebrity fascination, the accreditation of artisanal fabrics has been obscured and largely masked. Only the figureheads of design houses are given notoriety and recognition and celebrity endorsements are 'encouraged' through favours offered to famed clients of luxury brands.

Social media coverage emphasises the personality cults of designers and celebrities, whilst hand skills involved in the creation of haute couture are ignored and often exploited. It is the enviable lifestyles of couture designers that generate fashion news and not the material reality. Although recent studies address some issues of imbalance and ambiguity within the evolution of haute couture, the visibility of luxury textile creators has rarely been investigated and is certainly under-represented in academic research (Black et al, 2013).
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 6 Oct 2019
EventFuturescan 4: Valuing Practice - University of Bolton, Bolton, United Kingdom
Duration: 23 Jan 201924 Jan 2019


ConferenceFuturescan 4
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • haute couture
  • artisanal
  • textile
  • embellishment
  • accreditation


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