Haute couture : Heights of fashion tailoring and dressmaking

Haute couture literally translates (from French to English) as ‘Grand dressmaking‘. It refers to making exclusive, distinctive, original, high fashion custom fitted garments and accessories by design houses of acclaimed fashion designers. The process of creating these designs will follow all the standards of clothing design and will have a timelessness, grace that is unmatched. A couturier who is the connoisseur of finely made clothing aims at perfection in all the details involved in making his couture garment. 

Haute couture clothes are usually made to order according to the client’s needs, measurements, or specifications.  They will be regarded by all as works of art, because of the beauty and originality of the designs as well as the impeccable tailoring practices and high quality workmanship involved in their production.

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Haute couture is closely associated with a human being’s desire to stand out and develop an identity that is distinct from others. These one of a kind dresses are affordable only to the very rich, the kind of people for whom budgeting in lifestyle is an unheard of practice.

Haute Couture Houses

Haute couture houses refers to designing and dressmaking houses of internationally recognized fashion designers. 

These are usually elaborate establishments employing many highly skilled artisans well versed in the art of tailoring and dressmaking. These houses have different sections for designing, tailoring and dressmaking. Toiles (mock up garments) are made from the sketches that designers produce and then the garment is completed and then send for adding the embellishments. The client has done several fittings before the garment is finally adjusted and sewn to its complete perfection. 

Haute couture is used as a generic term referring to these design houses and their creations. But in France, not every fashion design house which practices couture sewing and tailoring can still be called a Haute couture house.

French Department of Industry has special guidelines for a fashion house to be qualified as an haute couture house. It must be a part of the  Chambre de commerce et d’industrie de Paris and must have at least 15 full time employees based in Paris and they will display their special collection of not less than 25 separate outfits two times a year (January and July). The list of Haute couturiers is revised each year. 

These exclusive and privileged houses can sell their creations at their asking price which their exclusivity demands. 

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The design houses who have qualified as  Hautue couture houses in Paris (in 2019) are Adeline André, Alexandre Vauthier , Alexis Mabille , Bouchra Jarrar, Chanel, Dior, Frank Sorbier, Giambattista Valli, Givenchy, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Julien Fournié, Maison Margiela, Maison Rabih Kayrouz, Maurizio Galante, Schiaparelli, Stéphane Rolland (Ref 2)

Brief History of Haute couture

Haute couture culture was at its peak during the mid 19th century and had its base in the fashion capital of the world, Paris. British designer Charles Worth is regarded as the founder of couture.  His designing concern The House of worth was responsible for the most exquisite gowns worn by the ladies of the courts of many European royals. Diamonds, pearls and other gems were sewn into clothing and the most exquisite and luxurious fabric was used to make each and every gown; All types of embellishments like  embroidery, braids and other passementerie were used to enhance the hand sewn creations.

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Couture survived the political upheavals consequent to the two major World wars and the economic consequences that followed. Fashion designers like Paul Poiret, Jeanne-Marie Lanvin, Madeliene Vionnet, Christian Dior, Christobel Balanciaga, Coco Chanel, Pierre Carden, Yves Saint Laurent were proponents of this dressmaking style that invoked art in fashion. Haute Couture was ‘the guiding light of fashion’ (ref 1) throughout the 1940s and 1950s and to an extent 1960s.

But since then Haute couture has seen a steady decline in the whole of Europe where it originated, whereas it has seen some popularity in USA, because of the presence of celebrities and very rich people. Despite the decline in demand for custom made garments in favor of ready made garments, the haute couture establishments are maintained for the prestige this label gives to the design houses. This highly coveted reputation as a Haute Couture house helps them in selling more of their other lines of accessories, perfumes and ready to wear clothing labels.

Further reading for the interested :

Ref 1 : Haute Couture – by Richard Harrison Martin, Harold Koda, Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.)

Ref 2 : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_grand_couturiers

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