The lavish world of Haute Couture still baffles a few fashion lovers, so I have decided to write this post to try and cover some basic information about it, as well as take a look at Members of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture.
Understanding Haute Couture goes hand in hand with understanding the prestige of Paris, and the city of love is where the story begins. Haute Couture, French from “high sewing” started out as a necessity for the high society of Paris in the 19th century. Women visited couture houses to order bespoke, one of a kind clothing, insuring that they had a unique dresses that didn’t clash with other ladies’. Turning up to a party wearing the same outfit as another woman was just as mortifying (if not more) back then.
So what makes a Haute Couture label? The French Ministry of Industry and the Fédération Française de la Couture have imposed strict legally binding requirements for a house to be able to identify itself as a Maison de Couture:
- Create made-to-measure clothing for private clients and offer personal fittings.
- Have a full-time workshop in Paris that employs no fewer than twenty staff.
- The fashion house must present two collections a year – in January and July – comprising both daytime and formal evening wear.
These collections are made by a collective of 2,200 seamstresses called “Les Petites Mains” who build pieces of clothing by hand. Working in the ateliers, this talented, patient breed are often fiercely loyal to a fashion house, spending their whole career solely at one brand.
Only the finest materials by the most skilled artisans will do when it comes to Haute Couture. Thus, houses call upon Lemarié for the finest feathers; Lesage for embroidery; Massaro for shoes; Causse for gloves… and so it goes on. Speciality is the name of the game (I will try to dedicate an article talking only about artisans and their place in our world).
Exclusivity is an important requirements of Haute Couture, with the label being a legal – and highly regarded – term to be used by only a very select number of designers meeting the standard. Here is a list of official, correspondent (foreign) and guest members, as well as accessories and jewellery members.
▽ Official members
▽ Correspondent, or foreign, members
▽ Guest members
These designers offer bespoke pieces, and are going to be priced higher than Ready-to-Wear. Some pieces can take upward of 700 hours to finish, and use twenty people at a time working on it. Daywear garments start at around £8,000, while evening and formal wear could easily go way above a 5 figures price tag. The use of rare fabrics and precious embellishments will hike the price even higher, which some items reaching hefty millions.
Today, The main buyers of Haute Couture today are no longer French socialites, but buyers from Russia, China and the Middle East. Fine clothing items can escalate in value over the years, and are often regarded as collectors’ items, making for a great investment.
Fashion houses receive very little profit from Haute Couture; in fact, they often lose money. Colossal expenses and a tiny clientele (there are only an estimated 2,000 female customers globally) perhaps explain why, in the past 60 years, the number of couture houses has decreased dramatically. Nonetheless, couture is seen by many as a long-term investment, augmenting brand image and raising the profile of ready-to-wear collections.
If you would like to know more, there is a great documentary available on m2m.tv called “Couture, The New Queens of Haute”, in which we follow two young designers, Iris Van Herpen and Delphine Manivet, as they navigate the modern world of Haute Couture. You can watch it here for free.
For more information, please visit the website of the Fédération Française de la Couture du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers and Créateurs de Mode.
All images were taken from the most recent Couture collections of shown designers (aw16 or ss17).