Friday, 9 July 2010

Haute Couture - an historical excursion

Haute Couture (French for: High dressmaking/tailoring)  

For centuries, French Haute Couture has been the stuff that dreams are made of.
Year by year, these few days in Paris might be amongst the most luxurious spectacles worldwide - and surely for most Haute Couture houses, they are the most prestigious days in their annual cycle - where custom-fit, exclusive clothing is presented to a demanding high profile clientele and the world press.


Did you know that the origin of Haute Couture is generally awarded to Charles Frederic Worth, who in 1857/58 found the first big fashion house "Worth et Bobergh" in Rue de la Paix in Paris? The extremely precious designs, which he was the first to display on an actual mannequin (his wife) were presented to a selected exclusive clientele. C.F. Worth created wardrobe for crowned heads like Empress Eugénie, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth of Austria (commonly known as Sissi). And not enough with my historical sashay here, did you know that Paul Poiret - who later became an acknowledged dressmaker himself and who was said to be amongst the first to create a design fragrance himself -was one of his assistants?
And last but not least - did you know, that each designer/fashion house who wants to call themselves Haute Couture has to fulfill four criteria annually (yes, you read correctly, they are being checked each year meticulously by the „Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne“):

- Each design house/designer has to have its/his atelier in Paris

- Employ at least 20 people as full time staff

- The collections have to be presented twice a year

- Each collection has to comprise at least 50 pieces

Apologies for de-romanticizing this magical subject, but economically speaking, Haute Couture usually is a losing deal. It certainly is the big sister of Prêt-à-porter in terms of elaborate tailoring, sartorial skills and working hours of countless seamstresses who put all their handcraft to realise the head of design's lastest vision. In the end however, it is no big secret, that the pieces are rather vertu and pieces of art to be kept and shown in museums instead of generating turnover. The main mission of Haute Couture is to attract attention to the fashion house itself, the brand as such and the more accessible lines and accessories of the fashion house.

For all of you who think it is crude to vocalise "trivia" like the filthy lucre when it comes to couture wonderland - I do not intend to be the Grinch who stole couture - quite the opposite I have always been an advocate of "L'art pour l'art".


Source: Rudolf Kinzel, 1996: Die Modemacher, Geschichte der Haute Couture;
Picture Source:, 

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