Couture Dresses: The History of Haute Couture
How much do you know about Haute Couture dresses?
You probably know that the name is French, the rules are established by French, and some of the main fashion houses making couture dresses are French. But did you know that the whole concept was first introduced by an Englishman? Charles Frederick Worth not only established the concept of ‘fashion designer’ and ‘fashion label’, and was the first to put his name on a tag inside a garment, but he also contributed to turning traditionally women-led industry into a male-dominated one. At the time when he started working on his first pieces, in the mid 1800s, fashion was dominated by female dressmakers.
Haute couture is high end fashion, made by hand from high quality and expensive fabrics. Haute couture garments tend to not have a particular price tag (daywear pieces tend to start at approximately £8,000, with evening and formal wear rocketing far above that, up to the millions), since budget is not relevant considering the amount of time, money and skills involved in making each couture piece. In France the term is protected by law. Only the companies mentioned on the list, those that meet certain well-defined standards, are eligible to be true haute couture houses. However, the term is also used loosely to describe all high-fashion custom-fitted clothing.
Le Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture was first established as the safeguard of high-fashion in 1868. The criteria for Haute Couture were established in 1945 (updated in 1992). In order to be eligible to call itself a couture house the company has to:
- make designs for private clients, with at least one fitting;
- have an atelier in Paris with at least 15 full-time members;
- present a collection of at least fifty original designs to the public every fashion season (twice, in January and July of each year), of both day and evening garments.
Because of very high expenses (some pieces take upward of 700 hours to create, and a minimum of 20 people working on it a a time) and a small estimate of 2,000 female customers globally (the main buyers of Haute Couture today are no longer French socialites, but buyers from Russia, China and the Middle East), in the past 60 years the number of couture houses has decreased dramatically.