While fashion weeks for ready-to-wear collections delivers the “next best thing” - I keep my cool and wait for the more important - Paris Haute Couture. For me, that is the true celebration of fashion as an art form and excites me way more than this season’s “must have” lists. And then I wait until Chanel releases their “Making of” videos (see below), because that’s when I get inspired and think of my next highly embellished project and roll up my sleeves for hundreds of hours of relaxation therapy.
Few years ago, when I got interested in the whole Paris Haute Couture history and all of it started to make sense to me - I got upset, knowing how often this title had been used where it shouldn’t. I guess half of the bridal wear companies add it to their logo for the “fanciness”. Nobody cares, probably not many even know the real meaning of it. I remember when I got to do my friend’s wedding dress and she looked for options in Lithuania (because, frankly, it is a bit crazy to do it long distance). Most of ateliers had “Haute Couture” attached to their names and I kept rolling my eyes saying “why do they have to use this title?” and she asked: “But that is what it is, isn’t it?”. Well.. not really. It is a bit more complicated than it seems and it is quite a big deal.
Here is a little summary:
Haute Couture means “High dressmaking” and is exclusive to Paris only, meaning, it is made in Paris and presented in Paris Haute Couture Week. It started in there and is a part of it’s culture, having history of more than 150 years. The title itself is protected by french law and should not be used unless the fashion house is a member of Chambre syndicale de la haute couture. And there are some serious rules to follow to become one. Members must:
- Have an atelier in Paris, that employs at least 20 well trained individuals full time. Versace and Armani also takes part in Paris Haute Couture week, but as correspondent members (having ateliers abroad), therefore uses “Atelier” and “Privé” titles instead of “Haute Couture”.
- Every spring-summer and fall-winter season present a collection of at least 50 models of it’s own design and made entirely out of fabric.
- Ensure that all the garments are of limited production and made custom to particular clients. It is not ready-to-wear, you cannot buy it off the shelf.
The construction of garments is way more complicated and is entirely HAND MADE. If you watch any documentary about Paris Haute Couture, You’ll notice that workshops do not have any complicated machinery, no overlock, it is normal to see domestic sewing machine at Christian Dior atelier, because straight stitch is only thing that they need to use. It takes many times to baste it (stitch) until the final seams are made. The mannequin is adjusted with padding to imitate client’s body shape. The garment will fit perfectly only it’s owner, because it would be balanced only for her body shape (for example.: client’s one shoulder sits lower than the other, therefore the seamstress will use different shoulder pads). It is kind of an “organic” piece that may not look good on the hanger, but will look perfect worn. Embroideries and designs are proportioned for client individually. Even traditional pattern making may not be used, constructing it by draping on mannequin rather that doing it flat.
The whole concept of Haute Couture line nowadays is to show the fashion house’s identity at it’s highest level, rather than seek for profit. Many luxury fashion brands simply cannot afford it. Usually, brands that have Haute Couture line, also has Ready-To-Wear, sometimes jewellery and perfumes as main source of income. Many of the garments from the collection may not even be for sale, making it even more exclusive to own a piece. It’s being said that Couture clothes has no price tag, meaning that you may pay as much as for a piece of art (for those who are interested in numbers: little fully embroidered Chanel top can cost around 17000 euros).
Long story short - regardless the legal part and being based in Paris, the main difference is quality and time invested in production.
I wish I could be a part of it, but I'm interested in couture sewing techniques and try to keep up at least a little. Later on I’ll show you the dress I made for my friend’s wedding - even though it it’s almost all hand made and took forever to finish - I am sure there is still long way to go until it may be of the same quality level as “Haute Couture”.
Have a look at how Chanel Haute Couture is being made:
Photo by Ieva Gedvygaite
Video from YouTube