Fashion Week is in full swing which, just wrapped its couture shows in Paris before landing here in New York. Speaking of the couture, you do realize it is one of the most misused terms in fashion. It appears that many people don’t know exactly what it is and/or just use it to sound bourgeois. Well, in order to know what the correct definition is, we have to go back to the beginning:
Where It All Started
Let's give credit to high fashion where it is due, thank you, France! I am sure you heard at least once about a king name Louis XIV. Well, he had a daily ritual of dressing during morning and evenings which, were the most important times of his day. Picture the king changing outfits 20 times a day! Back then, the brands we know today were not yet in existence or just getting started thanks to his obsession with clothes.
Louis XIV made France well-known for its "wears" which, was the reason the economy was fashion driven during his time. To make it happen, the king established a successful textile industry for fine silks and other materials. Dolls sported the latest trends and were sent throughout the country and Europe. They were used in the way catalogues are used today! Nobel women looked forward to the dolls and had the garments recreated by their dressmakers. Soon, the era of Haute Couture was born!
Unfortunately, Louis XIV's enthusiasm for clothing amassed large debts under his reign. His uncontrollable spending was in large part the cause of the French Revolution and why he and Marie Antoinette were later beheaded.
The Launch Of Haute Couture (High Dressmaking)
In the mid- 1800's, the budding fashion industry inspired a surge in custom luxury apparel. An Englishman, Charles Frederick Worth began to design collection for clients and was the first designer to put his name on the label of clothes. Yes, this guy:
He even came up with the idea to show clothing on live models which, was an instant hit with clients. Next, Worth instituted the first fashion calendar for runway shows. As a result, he is known as the father of Haute Couture.
Charles Worth started an organization designed to protect the intellectual property of designers called the Chambre Syndicale De La Haute Couture.
In order to become a member, there were strict rules in place to be recognized as a couture house:
- Each designer had to produce fifty new original designs for day and evening wear for each collection.
- Couturiers must organize two shows per year to display their work in January and July.
- Designers must have at least twenty full-time people in one of their Atelier shops.
Once accepted, designers had the privilege of licensing their names for a hose of merchandise including belts, sunglasses and underwear. Current members of the Chambre Syndicale use haute couture exclusively and can advertise their merchandise for free on French television.
In 1946, there were approximately one hundred and six fashion houses registered with the Chambre Syndicale. LANVIN is Paris’ oldest couture house with membership since 1909. However, the Chambre Syndicale remains in existence on a slightly smaller scale.
So, what makes it "Couture"?
Simply put, the garment must consist of a thousand hours of work all done by hand. It typically includes embellishments such as beading like the famed Lupita Nyong’o dress:
So, the next time you walk by a story with couture tacked on to its name, you know they are just selling faux "couture".
What do you think of couture? Share your comments below!