Haute Couture: A French Tradition of Fine Fashion

On the heels of the latest Paris Fashion Week, I thought it would be the perfect time to talk about a tradition in fashion unique to France — Haute Couture. Paris is the birthplace of Haute Couture, and a treasured tradition still kept alive today in France.

Paris Rendezvous

Fashion in the 21st century is so synonymous with designers themselves it would be hard to imagine it any other way. We know them for the trends they pioneer, their name on the labels of our clothes, and even their personalities that often grow into celebrity. But travel back a few centuries and dressmakers were simply seamstresses. It wasn’t until Marie Antoinette’s dressmaker, Rose Bertin, began to gain acclaim that the concept of a designer’s specific vision latched onto the garments they made. Fast forward to the early 1900’s and Paris was the fashion capital of the world. Wealthy women traveled here from afar to shop for clothing and accessories. Certain dressmakers began to gain prominence, presenting pre-designed collections in portfolios and on live models for customers to commission and have custom fitted to their figure. And voilà, there you have it, the birth of Haute Couture and the modern fashion designer — a most pivotal moment in fashion right here in Paris.

Couture translates literally from French as “dressmaking” and often abroad the word is thrown around arbitrarily to imply an element of prestige. But in France, Haute Couture is not something that is taken lightly. The term is protected by law and regulated by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, who enforces strict guidelines that designers must follow in order to be considered a Haute Couture house. They must...

• Design made-to-order for private clients, with one or more fittings.
• Have an atelier (workshop) in Paris that employs at least fifteen staff members full-time.
• Have at least twenty full-time technical people, in at least one atelier.
• Present a collection of at least fifty original designs to the public every fashion season that includes day and evening garments.

Today, the concept of Haute Couture is less suited to the contemporary commerce of fashion. Haute Couture collections have evolved into something less about generating money for designers and all about prestige. As I attended a few Haute Couture shows at the most recent couture fashion week, I was reminded that in these gorgeous collections designers can show off their savoir faire and bring their wildest sartorial visions to life, inspiring concepts they will often revisit in their prêt-a-porter (ready to wear) collections. Haute Couture are the dresses of dreams we covet as they walk down the runway and red carpet. They are fashion elevated to an art form that go down in history in fashion museums throughout the world. They are the garments that keep the dream of fashion alive in a way nothing else quite can...and we have Paris to thank for that.

Images Courtesy of Patuna Couture of their FW 2016 Collection.

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