Haute Couture is a phrase one often hears in the fashion world, but what does the phrase truly mean? Although haute couture is a term used to describe fashion in general, the French phrase actually means high or elegant sewing (high fashion women’s clothing). In French, the word haute means ‘high’ or ‘elegant’, while couture means ‘sewing’.
Original haute couture is high end fashion that is constructed by hand from start to finish, made from high quality, expensive, often unusual fabric and sewn with extreme attention to detail, finished by the most experienced and most capable sewers, often times using time-consuming, hand-executed techniques.
Hence, Haute Couture: high sewing, high dressmaking, high end fashion!
Haute Couture Fun Fact: To be called a haute couture house, a business must belong to the Syndical Chamber for Haute Couture in Paris, which is regulated by the French Department of Industry. Members must employ 15 or more people and present their collections twice a year. Each presentation must include at least 35 separate outfits for day and evening wear.
The criteria for haute couture were established in 1945 and updated in 1992. To earn the right to call itself a couture house, members of the Chambre Syndicale de la haute couture must follow these specific rules:
- Design made-to-order garments for private clients, involving one or more fittings.
- Have a workshop in Paris that employs at least 15 full-time members.
- Have at least twenty full-time technical people, in at least one workshop.
- Present a collection of at least fifty original designs to the public every fashion season (January and July each year) of both day and evening garments.
Haute Couture Fun Fact: The term haute couture has been used in a manner ignoring the legal restrictions, by ready-to-wear brands and in the popular media since the 1980s, so the actual original meaning has become blurred when describing fashion. Many top designer houses, such as Chanel, use the phrase for some of their special collections, such as collections that aren’t for sale, or collections that are very difficult to purchase.
Haute Couture : High end fashion passion!
True haute couture clothing is made from scratch for each customer, typically requiring three fittings. It usually takes from 100 to 400 hours to make one dress, costing anywhere from $26,000 to over $100,000. A tailored suit starts at approximately $16,000 while the price for evening gowns generally starts around $80,000.
Haute Couture Fun Fact: Of women who purchase true haute couture clothing items today, 60% are American. Often, name fashion designers will loan clothes to movie stars and other public figures for publicity (does the red carpet ring a bell)?
Socialites such as the Duchess of Windsor, Babe Paley and Gloria Guiness would order whole haute couture collections at one time. What a wardrobe! Style for a mile!
Today, the term haute couture is used loosely to describe all high fashion custom fitted clothing, whether the garments are produced in Paris or other fashion capitals such as London, Milan, New York or Tokyo. The term can refer to the fashion houses or fashion designers that create exclusive and often trend-setting fashions, or to the actual fashions created.
Haute Couture Not So Fun Fact: Due to the high cost of true haute couture garments, custom made clothing is no longer the main source of income for haute couture houses, the clothes often costing more than they earns through direct sales. More sales are made with ready-to-wear clothing and related luxury products such as shoes, perfumes and handbags.
The 1960s featured a revolt against established fashion standards by mods, rockers and hippies, as well as an increasing internationalization of the fashion scene. Jet travel spawned a jet set that partied and shopped just as happily in New York as in Paris. Wealthy women no longer felt that a Paris dress was necessarily better than one sewn elsewhere. While Paris is still huge in the fashion industry, the glamorous city is no longer the sole supplier of fashion.
Haute Couture Fun Fact: The largest private collector of true haute couture clothing is most likely Mouna Ayoub, whose collection is estimated to encompass more than 1,600 items.
Wow, wouldn’t it be a fashion lover’s dream to see inside that closet(s)?
The Syndical Chamber of Haute Couture has about 18 members, including such fashion moguls as Coco Chanel, Christian Dior and Pierre Cardin. The haute couture houses generate more than $1 billion (one-billion) in annual sales and employ approximately 5,000 people, including 2,200 seamstresses. Workers often specialize in one area, such as feathers, fabric, buttons, etc. Before World War II, over 35,000 people were employed at couture houses.
What a true luxury to wrap yourself in the lavish that is haute couture: that’s for sure!
“Your gown looks absolutely amazing. An excellent fashion find.”
“Thank you, I had it sewn special. This garment is one of a kind.”
“Did you have it made in Paris, London or New York?”
“This dress was created in Los Angeles, another fashion city, of course.”
“I must say the dress fits you splendidly and hugs you in all the right places.”
“Thank you for noticing my fancy dress, but you should also notice women’s faces!”
Haute Couture: A race to the finish line of luxurious, fine end fashion!
Nancy Mangano is an American fashion journalist and author of the Natalie North murder mystery book series, A Passion for Prying and Murder Can Be Messy. Visit Nancy on her author website http://www.nancymangano.com, Twitter @https://twitter.com/nancymangano, her fashion magazine Strutting in Style! at http://www.struttinginstyle.com, and her Facebook fan page Nancy Mangano https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nancy-Mangano/362187023895846