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The Most Interesting Facts on the History of Couture

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Haute Couture is a French phrase for high fashion. The precise definition of couture means dressmaking, sewing or needlework and haute means elegant or high. When a customer purchases a haute couture piece, they have purchased a model garment that is at the highest caliber of customized fashion design. This also means that the piece of haute couture was constructed and distributed by a couture design house.

The Most Interesting Facts on the History of Couture

The man held responsible for the inception of Couture Fashion is Charles Frederick Worth.  In the mid 1800s, fashion was dominated by individual dressmakers who would create outfits according to whatever their wealthy clients demanded. At this time Worth worked in a textile shop. After trying to convince his employers he too could sew garments, he was continuously met with opposition. This was predominantly due to it being unusual at that time for men to be clothing designers.

Remaining confident in his talent and stylistic vision, Worth turned to his wife to assist him becoming recognized and respected for his work. His wife, Marie, began to model his creations out and about in town. This was in hopes to convince people of her husband’s skills. After showing her husband’s sketches to an Austrian Princess and the wife to the Ambassador to paris, the Princess fell in love with what she saw. The princess then commissioned Worth to create a gown for her.

At this formal event, the Empress Eugénie was present and she was entranced by the Austrian Princess’ dress. She asked the Princess for the designer’s details that evening. This was the beginning of the House of Worth in Paris, France and the concept of couture fashion designing in 1858. Worth was also the first designer to ever put his name on a tag inside a garment.

The Early Years of Couture Fashion

Within only ten years after the start of Charles Frederick Worth’s fashion designing career, The Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture was created. The members of this organization include only those companies designated as Haute Couture houses. “Haute Couture is a legally protected and controlled label that can only be used by the fashion houses which have been granted the designation by the French Ministry of Industry. The group of companies that enjoy the Haute Couture label is reviewed annually.”

To set the specifications to determine what constituted a ‘couture house’, Le Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture was established as the industry’s first gatekeepers in 1968. The chamber decided on these detailed requirements for clothing to obtain to be considered couture:

  • Custom-made to fit the wearer
  • Hand-made by expert artisans, specialised in one area (such as embroidery, stitching, beading, etc)
  • Of the highest quality fabrics and materials
  • Exclusive in design and fit for each client

Nearly 100 years later, in 1945,  the Le Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture updated their requirements to:

  • Designs must be made-to-order for private clients, with one or more fittings
  • Each atelier must have at least 20 members of staff
  • Each season, the couture house must present a collection of at least 35 runs to the Paris press. This includes both daytime and evening wear.

The Exclusivity of Couture Fashion

The fabrics available to each couture house are as one would assume, very luxurious. These fabrics include the latest innovative combinations and materials. These included expensive silks, fine wools, cashmeres, cottons, linens, leather, suede, other skins or furs. In regards to the leading design houses in the industry, fabrics of a specific color and texture may be exclusively reserved for that couture house.

The Roles in a Couture Fashion House

The couture house workrooms are carefully configured into sections, according to sewing techniques. The house’s sewing staff is divided between two areas. First: dressmaking, for dresses and draped garments based upon feminine dressmaking techniques. Second: tailoring, for suits and coats utilizing male tailoring techniques of construction.

Each member of the staff work according to a hierarchy of skills. These range from the head dressmaker or tailor to assistants. Both the sale areas and salons are lead by the vendeuse, a saleswoman. This staff member sells the couture designs to customers and handles the fabrication and fittings within the workrooms.

The Reinvention of Couture Fashion

After a short decline in couture fashion in the early 20th century, the industry actually flourished in the postwar period. This was thanks to Christian Dior and the appeal of his “New Look” in 1947. Featuring rounded shoulders, a cinched waist, and very full skirt, the “New Look” celebrated femininity and opulence in women’s fashion. Dior offered an entirely new look and outlook. After years of military and civilian uniforms, sartorial restrictions and shortages, it was precisely what couture fashion needed.

The Time Invested in Couture Fashion

It is no surprise that the time invested to create hand-made, detailed and immaculate designs is an aspect that make a piece couture. However, just how long does it take for couture fashion to be created? Find below a a press release from Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel’s head of design, disclosing the details on how many hours his runway 2011 Spring fashion line took to prepare and create.

“Fabrics: satin, tweed, lace, chiffon and tulle – Colors: pastel and acid tones, silver lamé – Buttons: mercury color, shiny chrome – Finishings: “Hidden” seams. It takes 3 hours to hand-stitch these seams along one meter of fabric. To make the “hidden seams” of some pieces took 35 hours of work in the atelier. Silver threads or silver paint on embroidered satin Silver stucco effect for the baroque touch Certain dresses are adorned with 80 buttons Sleeves and hems trimmed with tulle – Stockings: oily, silver effect

Hairstyles: “heart” hairstyle – Music: electronic and synthetic rock recalling the neon lights – Decor: “Aluminum box” 1000 square meters of aluminum for the floor, benches and columns Floor: finished with a layer of aluminum 1200 square meters of aluminum colored fabric for the ceiling and walls 25 columns covered with neon tubes (4200 tubes) in mauve, pink, yellow, green and off white 650 meters of chrome colored fabric for the couches 500 people worked on the project.

SOME EXAMPLES – Wedding dress and cape: 1300 hours of work in total Cape: 200 meters of tulle and silk cr√®peline (800 hours of work) Dress: satin and chiffon (190 hours of work) embroidered by the Maison LESAGE (350 hours of work) – Look 37, “grenade” cape: 700 hours of work in total Entirely made by the Maison LEMARIE.”

Today’s Couture Fashion Houses

  •  Elie Saab
  • Jean Paul Gaultier
  • Giambattista Valli
  • Dior
  • Valentino
  •  Iris Van Herpen
  • Chanel
  • Armani Prive

Embracing Couture Fashion Values, in Everyday Style

Although couture fashion is dazzling and impressive, the fact remains that it is not ready-to-wear. One of the reasons artTECA was created, is because of the fashion line’s availability to offer exclusive an limited edition designs that embrace artistic values and aesthetic. Shop artTECA’s apparel and accessories here.

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