Haute couture is French for “high dressmaking.” As a term very much used to describe what we identify as slow fashion for men and women’s apparel in today’s world, haute couture was any women’s clothing that was hand-stitched from start to finish, with great attention to detail by the most sought-after modistes.
Here’s a brief timeline of the practice across three centuries.
The 1800s: Start of an Era
France has always been the birthplace of the latest trends, and haute couture was no exception. In 1858, the world was forced to distinguish between run-of-the-mill dressmakers and fashion designers when Charles Frederick Worth set up a service for—as yet uncoined—women’s haute couture in Paris. He would be the first in a long line of self-proclaimed designers, catering exclusively to the fairer sex of the mid-1800s’ genteel society.
A decade later, the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture would be founded for the express purpose of regulating the eligibility of such dressmakers. By and large, the institution would be vague about specifications and requirements until the mid-1900s.
The 1900s: The Birth of “Haute Couture”
It wouldn’t be until 1908 that Worth would use the term “haute couture” to describe his luxury designer clothing, and a decade still before any effort towards protecting the work of couturiers would be made.
In 1945, despite a turbulent world war raging in the continent, the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture would reveal the basis upon which dressmakers can be vaulted to couturier status. Here they are:
- Every dressmaker must have a minimum of 20 workers.
- No ready-to-wear; each article must be custom-made for a specific client, size and design-wise.
- The studio should introduce a fashion line of at least 35 outfits featuring morning and evening gowns.
Allegedly owing to the above specifications, the world would bear witness to the rise and fall of haute couture in the next two and a half decades. The number of studios would fall from an impressive 106 in 1946 to a mere 19 in 1970. However, the cause behind the decline of haute couture may also have to do with the fact that it had strong competition from the thriving mass-production industry.
The 2000s: Haute Couture Fights Back
In order to restore the status of haute couture, regulating bodies had to realize the importance of getting with the times. Nothing can survive as long as it doesn’t evolve appeared, and survival was probably what set off the revolution in haute couture.
A decade after the millennium, just when it seemed haute couture had well and truly ended, it expanded to other parts of the world and took the first step towards gender-neutral fashion.
Present Day: The Best of Both Times
Today, haute couture is seen as a preserver of ecosystems. By combining modern technology and old skill, the practice represents slow fashion, which is all the rage these days.
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