Traditionally held after the Menswear collections and before the Women’s Ready to Wear shows, Paris Couture is the ultimate event for fantasy in fashion. It’s become known for out-there looks and red carpet stunners, but at it’s not-so-humble roots Couture is simply about custom tailoring and made-to-order details.
Couture Runway 2013
Haute Couture 101
Haute Couture is practically synonymous with Paris, so it’s ironic that the creations of an English dressmaker, Charles Worth, first ushered in the concept back in the 1800s. Worth’s clients were wives and mothers to the richest families on the globe. Their attire was custom fitted, custom ordered, custom designed, hand-made and all at an exorbitant price tag and wait time. Even in 2013, hand-sewn and made-on-request are still the hallmarks of Haute.
We all still just love the artistry and beauty of Couture, even when we are nowhere near the typical client for the Haute confections.
While two centuries’ passing may have left the Couture experience largely untouched, the Couture perception is radically changed. Worth might turn over in his grave to see how loosely the term is bandied about by the public and even the fashion press, applying it to any old kind of designer stuff. Heck, Karl Lagerfeld might just turn over in his silk sheets with “Haute Couture” almost now serving as an umbrella definition for Fashion itself. Well, ok, let’s not get crazy. It’s not literally an umbrella definition because the words’ usage is actually policed by French Commerce law. Dodged a bullet on that one, right?
And if you need any more reassurance that Haute Couture is not going mass market any time soon, remember that not just any designer can show at Couture. It’s a narrow field of committee-selected labels, less than twenty in fact, including Dior, Chanel, Armani, Elie Saab and Versace. And there are rules to keeping Haute status:
- Design houses must have an outpost in Paris
- They must employ 20 or more highly skilled craftsmen
- A minimum of three fittings per customer for each Couture garment is required
- Outsourcing is forbidden
All these guidelines may seem overly rigorous, but the members-only French Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne confers benefits as well, including a level of design protection not found anywhere else in the world: copying Couture has legal consequences.
Still In Love
History and regulatory lessons aside, we all still just love the artistry and beauty of Couture, even when we are nowhere near the typical client for the Haute confections. Sometimes they are fairly wearable, like Jennifer Lawrence’s Dior Haute Couture Golden Globes gown and other times they are flat out crazy, like Jean-Paul Gaultier’s golden cage maillot from 2012. Whether you’re an accomplished on-demand dresser or just an off-the-rack admirer in need of an Haute Couture 101, Haute Couture remains the escapist fashion world’s very own escape from the everyday.