Monday, February 1, 2010

Haute Couture 101

Because I thought that some of the recent Haute Couture festivities in Paris lacked grandeur and resembled too much what one could find anywhere from Zara to the more upscale ready to wear brands like Gucci (Thimister or Anne Valerie Hash anyone), pretty? Yes, unique? Not so much, maybe we are too used to the idea that couture has to mean ballgowns and complicated ensembles and forget that couture refers to perfectly made garments; it is not written anywhere that tank tops do not qualify.
So I decided to do a little refreshing on what exactly is the deal with couture, it may be a little long so be warned, oh and also all the question-marks-sesame-street-lets-learn kind of dialog, that’s just how it was playing in my head jejeje.

Great to have you here Haute Couture 101 begins now! Bespoke 101 this way!

Ok so first things first, what does Haute Couture even mean?
It means “sewing at a high level” but according to Claire B. Schaeffer (the author of Couture Sewing Techniques, which I recommend to you BTW even if you have no sewing plans you can just use it to expand your horizons) a more accurate translation would be “finest high-fashion sewing”. The term and its uses, say for advertising purposes is regulated by the “Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne” an entity founded in 1868 by Charles Frederic Worth, he was the one that started it all, one of his main contributions were the abolishment of the cage (think the skirts worn by Scarlet in Gone with the Wind)in favor of a softer silhouette. Since then the process has not changed much, the quirurgic precision cuts and the emphasis in hand made are still going strong.

cage crinoline @

So does this mean the dress your local seamstress made for you last year for your cousins wedding can be considered Haute Couture? You know since it was made especially for you and it even had some embroidery so it was made by hand….errrrrrrrr NO!
As I mentioned before it is highly regulated a term and the one who wishes to use it needs to follow the rules:
• Provide made to order designs for private clients
• Include one or more fittings
• Having a workroom in Paris with at least 20 full time workers
• Present a collection of at least 50 designs for day and evening and present them to the press in Paris in January and July for the spring-summer and autumn-winter seasons and also a presentation for potential clients
Because of how restrictive this rules are even very old established houses are excluded by the C.S. de la C.P.
There are also excellent houses in London and Rome but the center remains in Paris mainly because of the support network provided by needle workers and the small specialized workshops (embroidery, beading, millinery, feather work, braiding, fabric flowers and custom made accessories).

There are several levels of membership:

1. Haute Couture Members


2. Correspondent Members


3. Guest Members


Ok then what do they mean by “hand made”?
It means really made by hand, almost entirely a garment is constructed by hand and rarely use the machine but maybe for something that needs a little more strength or needs to be more even looking. Every produced piece is custom cut, fitted and even frequently the design is altered to fit preferences of the client as long as the integrity of the design is not lost. It is such a focused team work that a simple day dress may take 4 to 8 workers around 70 to 90 hours of work and from that to hundreds of hours for a richly embellished evening gown.
So much work means a heavy price tag, from $8,000 to $20,000 for a day dress, for a suit maybe $10,000 to $40,000 and $15,000 to $200,000 for evening wear mmmm….are they made of gold or encrusted with diamonds like that super expensive bra Victoria’s Secret comes out with every year? Not really but I would not be surprised if one such dress was made, but the price begins with the fabrics, only the best is used, even fabrics that cost $1000 a yard or more, there’s the attention to detail, the cut and fit, and the time it takes.

On a especial note regarding the fabrics sometimes they are created especially like the silk gazar designed in 1958 for Balenciaga by fabric design firm Abraham or the 1947 printed muslin from Bianchini-Ferier for Dior or Chanel’s tweeds by Linton each season, between 15 and 40 exclusive patterns are created including complementing narrow trims and matching yarns.
At other times ateliers simply cut apart and rearrange an existing print to create a certain effect on a particular design and it can take as much as four weeks to four workers.

On the fitting of a garment we could go on and on and then some, the idea is that the fit appears flawless and effortless, this mainly as a result of multiple fittings made on the customized dress form duplicating the clients figure and the ones on the actual person.
But there are other little details even more impressive that occur behind the scenes.
For example on a person with an asymmetrical figure the collar, pockets and shoulder seams may be slightly narrower on one side, on a full figure vertical seams are moved in or out as needed to flatter and create a visually better line. For someone short the horizontal seams are adjusted not only the waistline and hemline.
For embellished garments the beading or embroidery is scaled to the clients garment dimensions, as to not overwhelm a small frame or float against a sizable background on a larger one. There’s also the small detail of the finishing touches like the seam allowances perfected in minute evenly spaced, hand stitched overcastting that only the owner gets to see. Toile is used to plan details of the garment and used as pattern to cut the actual fabric.
Even motifs, plaids or stripes are matched in such a way as to best flatter the figure and at the same time pulling a disappearing act on the fasteners at the garment openings; also the pattern is made to run uninterrupted from neck to hem.
If you gain or loose weight, the garment can be altered frequently even at no extra cost (as most houses offer an unwritten satisfaction guaranteed)

Converted? Then make an appointment over at your Haute Couture House of choice, they will assign a “vendeuse” that will assist you by preventing you purchase any unflattering design (she has years of experience) if you want changes to be made this is the time to speak up. Next the “premiere” from the tailoring or dressmaking ateliers will appear to take about 30 measurements to be turned into your chosen design, about a week later be ready for your first fitting, then a second one unless you have a weird body and need more ha not really more is more likely due to a more complex design.
If it’s a simple little something you can expect your new treasure packed to perfection in about two to three weeks after placing your order, but some can take months to finish.
Simple, yes?

If I forgot something don’t be afraid to add or just to tell me how long this was. Luvs remember you can join me on Bloglovin' and Twitter


Sandra @ said...

Loved this! So many people do not understand what haute couture and couture are. They think an old designer piece is couture. It is not.

And great job citing Claire as a source - she is an amazing wealth of knowledge!

Arushi Khosla (FabBlab) said...

Fabulous post. It's great for people who think couture is anything displayed on any runway anywhere.

I agree with you. While Dior was delicious where colors, embroidery and suchlike was concerned, there are ways of staying true to the house's aesthetic and branching out into the 21st century. I'm all for couture spectacle, don't get me wrong. In fact, I believe that for every Yigal Azrouel, there should be an Elie Saab or Alexander McQueen! BUT, ball gowns and corsets are maybe a little passe. We need to advance into the new era, the fashion industry does.

Jed Medina said...

What a great post! My first time to look closely at the Haute Couture collection in Paris and your post made me realize a lot of my questions are actually being answered here!

Jeanne Suica Vintage & Collectable Clothing said...

Thanks for a great post. I attended Frank Sorbier's show in Paris last week and it was such a thrill. Amazing how much work goes into a piece!

robbie said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


M said...

tnx so much

Asta said...

A very informative and lok-into-the-depth post, thank you so much!

salwar kameez said...

it was excellent article. Thanks to share..

Fashion Mantra said...

Nice article.i really like .thanks for sharing


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