Industry Speak: Haute Couture

Dior, 2008

Dior, 2008

There are some days when I’m feeling antisocial and I want nothing more than pretty pictures of clothes to keep me company. Today has been that kind of a day. For some people fashion is just clothes- a fact of life. No shoes, no shirt, no service. For me, it’s like my best friend- I like to check in regularly and see what’s new. I know it’s more than it appears to be on the outside.

This morning, I was thinking about the videos that I posted about yesterday and how Street Wear relies heavily upon hype and self-promotion and how haute couture is very similar and yet so different. With haute couture, you can expect hype but also an intense shroud of secrecy. I’ve also found that if you ask a fashionista about haute couture and she gives you a vague answer about it meaning “handmade” or referring to high fashion, she’s probably not as well versed on the subject as she’d like you to think.

Industry Speak:

What is haute couture? French for “high sewing” or “high dressmaking”. Past that, there is no simple definition of haute couture but I will try to break it down simply and without pretension.

  • For a fashion house to be considered a haute couture house, it must belong to the Syndical Chamber for Haute Couture, which is based in Paris and is controlled and regulated by the France’s Department of Industry. Once a house has gained this approval and is considered to be an approved maker of haute couture, it must uphold certain standards such as presenting collections twice a year, each collection including 35 individual outfits or more.
  • There are currently 11 official fashion houses that can legally call themselves makers of haute couture as of 2008 Fall/Winter shows: Adeline André, Anne Valérie Hash, Chanel, Christian Dior, Christian Lacroix, Dominique Sirop, Emanuel Ungaro, Franck Sorbier, Givenchy, Jean Paul Gaultier, Maurizio Galante.
  • There are also a select few foreign (not French), houses that are given the title of “correspondent members”: Elie Saab, Giorgio Armani, Maison Martin Margiela, Valentino SpA.
  • It can take over 400 hours to complete one dress and so much of the cost has to do with labor. Just imagine, every sequin and all of the embroidery and braiding is done by hand- and by the world’s best! A haute couture dress will begin around $30,000.
  • Haute couture is rarely sold. It is estimated that only 200 women in the world are regular buyers of haute couture as money is not the only requirement for purchase. Although houses will lend their clothes to celebrity clients, few if any actually own haute couture.There are many other mysterious standards regarding the “haute couture club” and I’m afraid I don’t know what they are- although I guess it has something to do with “high society”.
  • Once a haute couture piece is sold, it must then be refit and made more “wearable” for the customer. The fantasy that walks down the runway is usually toned down so that it is more “appropriate” for even high society events.
  • Fashion houses do not make money off of haute couture, it costs too much and not enough people buy it. Haute couture generates hype which in turn promotes ready to wear lines (mass market/machine made) clothes, accessories, and fragrances.

To understand more about Haute Couture I’ve found a couple of documentaries available on Youtube. Both documentaries are in segments- I’ve only included the first parts of each.

The first will give you insight into the general world of haute couture- the women who collect, the team that assembles the dresses, and a look at one Chanel dress from start to finish.

The Secret World of Haute Couture

The second video will give you a much more in depth look at the many people who are responsible for constructing the gowns at Chanel, with many priceless moments with Karl Lagerfeld. My favorite part is the woman who is responsible for all of Chanel‘s signature braiding. She was well into her 70s at the time the film was made and still quite feisty but oh so endearing- I loved her advice about “setting your own limits” and even “Chanel will wait”.

Signe Chanel

My Favorite couture house (besides reigning champ Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel) would have to be Dior, now led by John Galliano.

Here is part two of their fall 2008 Couture Collection:

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