Everything You Need To Know About Haute-Couture

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Shopping and French Savoir FaireCultural Heritage

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Reading time: 0 minPublished on 2 August 2023, updated on 16 April 2024

Haute couture, a phrase that exudes the epitome of fashion refinement, holds far more significance than its literal translation of "high dressmaking" from French (haute meaning high, and couture meaning dressmaking). It epitomizes the essence of French luxury, where expertly handcrafted garments emerge as exquisite creations from the minds of the world's leading designers. Made with high-quality, rare fabrics and crafted with meticulous attention to detail by skilled artisans, haute couture stands as an emblem of elegance and sophistication.

The Legacy and Origins of Haute Couture

A true symbol of fashion and Parisian allure, haute couture has a storied past that dates back to a time when Charles Frederick Worth, an Englishman, founded the first genuine Couture House in Paris in 1858. Since then, France has evolved into a fashion powerhouse, with its capital, Paris, reigning as a global fashion icon.

The term haute couture holds legal significance in France, with strict criteria laid out in 1945 for any collection to earn this prestigious label.

• design made-to-order for private clients • have an atelier (workshop) in Paris that employs 20 full-time staff members and at least 20 full-time technical people • present a collection of at least 25 original designs twice a year (January & July) at the Paris Couture Week

Designers must create made-to-order pieces for private clients, maintain an atelier (workshop) in Paris staffed by at least 20 full-time artisans and 20 full-time technical experts, and present a collection of at least 25 original designs twice a year during the illustrious Paris Couture Week held in January and July.

Though the term Haute Couture is synonymous with the French culture, it may come as a surprise that it was actually an Englishman named Charles Frederick Worth who in 1858 founded the first true Couture House at number 7, rue de la Paix in Paris.

Portrait of Charles Frederick Worth aged 30 PC-wikipedia Charles Frederick Worth © Wikipedia

The Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, the most important fashion organization in France, is responsible for regulating the haute couture industry in Paris. It seeks to promote French fashion culture, where Haute Couture contributes to bolstering Paris in its role as worldwide fashion capital.

Haute couture is a highly protected term. Not any designer can call themselves a couture designer. There are only 14 designers who bear the label of haute couture. Christian Dior, Chanel, Ellie Saab and Versace are some of the big names who produce haute couture.

‘Couture’ in recent times has become a term carried by several fashion brands and which may not necessarily belong to the label “Haute Couture”. It can be seen in the example of casual-wear brand Juicy Couture. Sweatpants are decidedly a long way away from the likes of Chanel and Givenchy so how can they label themselves ‘couture’ at all? The word ‘couture’ has become part of the pop culture. It’s been taken by nearly every company on the planet.

Haute Couture fashion shows are like theatre! From the garments to the models to the staging to the music…. all these important components come together to create a moment.

At the Paris Haute Couture Week 2019, Chanel recreated Parisian streets as a backdrop to showcase for their iconic designs at the flamboyant Palais Garnier Opera.

One of the most sought-after couture fashion shows, Paris Haute Couture Week is a lavish affair, mostly attended by the porte-monnaie sur pattes, or ‘walking purses’. For many of these buyers it is an investment, a form of art collection.

Madelaine-Petsch-2019-Met-Gala Madelaine Petsch wearing Jean Paul Gaultier Spring 2019 Couture at the MET Gala 2019 © Dia Dipasupil / Filmmagic

Every year Haute Couture exhibitions or events are held at some of the most famous and extravagant museums and exquisite locations across the world like the Palais de la Porte Dorée, Palais Galleria and The Musée Yves Saint-Laurent in Paris, The Museum of Decorative Arts in Bordeaux, the Victoria and Albert museum in London and the national museum of Scotland in Edinburg.

A few Parisian museums and art galleries can also host or arrange tours related to fashion within their institutions. Between legendary figures and Couture designers, these exhibits are astonishing!

The exhibitions are magical, theatrical, historical and cinematographic highlighting the couturiers creative process, some previously unseen pieces as well as some extraordinary vintage designs.

For the fashion aficionados from around the world, one can opt for private shopping tours in Paris with your very own personal shopper.

Within the heart of the Triangle d’Or (Golden Triangle) in Paris, is where you will find the finest Haute Couture shops in the world.

So, on your next trip to the World’s Fashion Capital, take a stroll along the streets of Avenue Montaigne, Avenue George V, and Rue Francois 1er and immerse yourself in a world of luxury shopping in Paris!

On these three beautiful streets which form the shopping triangle, you will find the most prestigious designer clothing such as Dior, Chanel, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Balmain, Givenchy and more!

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