Last week was Paris Haute Couture week. It’s called Paris Haute Couture week but there is only one – it isn’t like ordinary fashion weeks, of which there are hundreds all over the world. Couture is hosted twice a year and is the fun, frivolous and fantastical antithesis of the ready to wear or resort collections.
Couture is something else. It is in a sense the vestiges of a time when if you wanted to dress well, you had a dress maker. You also would have a milliner, a glover and a shoemaker. Now a days you may have each of these but increasingly a brand will oversee your entire couture look from blush to belt buckles.
Elie Saab A/W 2012/2013 Couture. A personal favourite.
The beginning of couture as we know it today is attributed to Charles Frederick Worth (1826-1895) of the House of Worth, who from his atelier in Paris made impossible to wear, ruinously expensive gowns that were lusted after by European and American aristocracy for their beauty and individualism.
Gowns from the House of Worth, circa 1887(left) and 1898 – 1900 (right).
The House of Worth disappeared from the fashion scene for decades until recently revived in 2011 for RTW and interestingly, lingerie.
Paris was and is the home of couture. Where else would the sweeping romance, the history and the workmanship of couture reside so comfortably? Romance aside, Haute Couture is legally held to be the provision of the Chambre syndicale de la haute couture, so shows can only be held in the City of Lights and the big names are the ones we associate so strongly with decades of impeccable French fashion. Brands such as Chanel, Jean Paul Gaultier and Dior. Other players include Versace – newly returned to couture after a hiatus – Elie Saab, Valentino and Armani Prive.
Couture is literally the height of fashion. The costs of a handmade couture piece – and they are all handmade by skilled ateliers – is out of the reach of the 99% and always will be. You pay for uniqueness, immaculate design and immaculate make. You pay for a piece that can be handed down for generations and still be beautiful and lusted after.
The costs of couture are not held by the customer alone. To make a couture collection is fantastically expensive for fashion house as well. So much so that very few do and even those commonly associated with couture may retreat from the field for a few years when finances bite and they can’t afford to make the gowns and put on the show, let alone service the demanding customers that couture attracts.
All that impracticality aside, couture is about beautiful clothes that if you are lucky enough to wear them, transform you and the way you look and feel. So here is a bit of a wrap up from a few websites on the couture shows and a little bit of street style.
If you wanted to know more about the history of couture, go out and buy yourself The Golden Age of Couture, a V&A publication. Full of stunning photos and illustrations, it’s a wonderful read.