What is Haute Couture and What’s the Big Deal?

I have been thinking about this since a few weeks back on Project Runway, the designers were making “haute couture” ball gowns for the opera. Anthony Williams said something along the lines of  “these aren’t haute couture, these are pumped up Prom dresses”… which got me thinking, do I even know what the meaning of “HauteCouture” really is? Did a little research and nope, apparently not.

Haute couture (French for “high sewing” or “high dressmaking”; refers to the creation of exclusive custom-fitted clothing. Haute couture is made to order for a specific customer, and it is usually made from high-quality, expensive fabric and sewn with extreme attention to detail and finished by the most experienced and capable seamstresses, often using time-consuming, hand-executed techniques. Couture is a common abbreviation of haute couture and refers to the same thing in spirit (thank you Wikipedia)

Jean Paul Gaultier Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2012
Photos by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images Europe

There are certain requirements that must be met in order to be considered “Haute Couture” and from what I can tell, it looks pretty, pretty, pretty expensive to keep your couture lines going.

  • Design made-to-order for private clients, with one or more fittings.
  • Have a workshop (atelier) in Paris that employs at least fifteen people full-time.
  • Each season (i.e., twice a year), present a collection to the Paris press, comprising at least thirty-five runs/exits with outfits for both daytime wear and evening wear.

I googled around. So it turns out that I am correct, that pulling together 2 fashion shows a year can run upwards of 3 million dollars a piece. Wowzas. It’s not wonder that so many of the Haute Couture fashion houses have closed in order to pursue Ready to Wear (or prêt-à-porter) so that they can actually make money. Currently there are only 12 official members (some of which are Jean Paul Gaultier, Chanel, Christian Dior, and Givenchy) and many, many more who once were but are no longer (Emilio Pucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Lanvin and Balenciaga to name a few). Other designers use the term “couture” loosely to describe their lines but at the end of the day, the don’t meet the requirements, they don’t get the GLORY *throws glitter*.

Chanel Couture Spring 2011 Photo: Courtesy of Chanel

The idea of couture is fantastic. The clothes are dramatic and wonderful. Haute Couture is how designer fashion really started… and can you imagine having something made just for you and only you by 15 or so Parisians? Yeah, pretty awesome. But as you would have guessed, only about 1% of the world’s population can afford couture (pssst. I am not one of them) so the lines are basically created, at this point, to be for pure showmanship. Hey, if they can afford it, more power to them.

So now when someone says, “That’s so Haute Couture!” you can snootily turn your nose up at them and say “Of course that isn’t Haute Couture, do you even know what couture means?!”

Advertisements
What is Haute Couture and What’s the Big Deal?