HAUTE COUTURE - WHAT IS IT AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?

Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2019/20 is now happening. For certain you have heard this term before, but what exactly is Haute Couture?

Jean Paul Gaultier Haute Couture Spring Summer 2019; Credit to  YouTube

Jean Paul Gaultier Haute Couture Spring Summer 2019; Credit to YouTube

A French Legal Term

Haute Couture is a French expression. In English “Haute” means elegant or high, and “Couture” means dressmaking, sewing, or needlework. The term is in fact regulated by French law and Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture (English: Trade Association of High Fashion) of Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCM). To become Haute Couture, the fashion house must follow specific rules:

  • The fashion house must have a workshop (atelier) in Paris that employs at least 15 full-time staff members;

  • All made-to-order pieces must be designed for clients with at least one fitting;

  • The houses must create a collection every summer and winter season (in January and July) with at least 35 day and night wear.

Such framework originated from Charles Frederick Worth, an English fashion designer also known as the Father of Haute Couture who created the label “Worth Couture” in the 19th Century. Worth offered a new approach to the creation of couture dresses by having all pieces tailor-made. From design, colors to fabrics, every single piece from his collection were made-to-order. On 23 January 1945, Haute Couture became a legally bind term.

A portrait of Charles Frederick Worth, and two gowns from his collections in the late 19th century. Photos via AllPosters.com and MetMuseum.org. Credit to  Zimbio .

A portrait of Charles Frederick Worth, and two gowns from his collections in the late 19th century. Photos via AllPosters.com and MetMuseum.org. Credit to Zimbio.

15 Haute Couture Designers

Currently, there are 15 haute couture designers including internationally renowned brands Chanel, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Maison Margiela. Other lesser-known brands are Adeline André, Alexandre Vauthier, Alexis Mabille, Franck Sorbier, Giambattista Valli, Julien Fournié, Maison Rabih Kayrouz, Maurizio Galante, Schiaparelli, and Stéphane Rolland. As an official member, the brand must be from France.

For foreign brands, there are also corresponding members including Azzedine Alaïa, Elie Saab, Fendi Couture, Giorgio Armani, Valentino, Versace, and Viktor&Rolf, and guest members such as Guo Pei and Ralph & Russo.

 

How Much is Haute Couture and Who Buys it?

Haute couture pieces are handmade for one single client, if not, for a very few clients who are usually in the top percentile of wealth. Haute couture gowns can take over 800 hours to produce so they are very pricy. A gown can start at $10,000 while a heavily embroidered and complex one can cost millions. Globally, only around 2,000 people (allegedly, some say the number may be as low as 200-400) annually purchase Haute Couture.

Daphne Guinness (English socialite and the direct descendant of the 18th century Irish brewer Arthur Guinness) in Alexander McQueen

Daphne Guinness (English socialite and the direct descendant of the 18th century Irish brewer Arthur Guinness) in Alexander McQueen

Sheikha of Qatar in Chanel

Sheikha of Qatar in Chanel

Melania Trump in Christion Dior

Melania Trump in Christion Dior

Relevance of Haute Couture Today

Many people see Haute Couture irrelevant to today’s fashion world as Haute Couture is usually associated with “extravagate”, “superficial” and “impractical”, but the fact that the collections set stages for future fashion trends says otherwise.

Haute Couture SS 2017 from left to right: Alexandre Vauthier, Chanel, Giambattista Valli; Credit to  Vogue .

Haute Couture SS 2017 from left to right: Alexandre Vauthier, Chanel, Giambattista Valli; Credit to Vogue.

Adapting the gigot-sleeve design from Haute Couture; Ready-to-wear SS 2018 from left to right: Ralph&Russo, Tome, Paco Rabanne; Credit to  Vogue .

Adapting the gigot-sleeve design from Haute Couture; Ready-to-wear SS 2018 from left to right: Ralph&Russo, Tome, Paco Rabanne; Credit to Vogue.

Haute Couture also allows designers to freely create art pieces without commercial consideration. It is more like an investment on brand image that will eventually raise its profile of ready-to-wear collections. Viktor & Rolf and Jean Paul Gaultier even launch only Haute Couture for the love of art.

To see more on how fashion house creates Haute Couture collections, watch Netflix’s “7 Days Out” that documented behind-the-scenes of Chanel Spring-Summer 2018 Haute Couture.