A deep dive into the history of haute couture, and the most successful Haute Couture houses such as Christian Dior, Chanel, and Givenchy.
Among the most recognized categories in the fashion industry, haute couture is distinguished by its flawless and glamorous execution. Celebrities and influencers from around the world represent designers at every star-studded event, raising the bar of exclusivity. With fewer and fewer new brands breaking into the haute couture category, the oldest and dearest brands are the ones that are standing the test of time.
The Father of Haute Couture
The word "Haute" means "high," and the word "Couture" means "dressmaking." According to history, an haute couture outfit is designed exclusively for a single individual. In addition, each outfit is considered to have no price tag as it is based on the amount of time, expertise, and resources that have gone into its creation. As a result of the uniqueness of Haute Couture garments, many local designers mimicked them. Charles Frederick Worth created the first Haute Couture house in 1858, furthermore enlisting the name upon himself as “the father of haute couture”. Following the development of the industry, the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture was established to commission brands that would be called haute couture.
In France, Haute Couture is a law-protected term that can only be used by authorized brands. In order to qualify for the title of Haute Couture, a company must meet certain requirements as listed below:
- For a brand to be successful, it must offer exclusive designs for unique customers with at least one fitting.
- There must be an atelier in Paris with at least 15 full-time design employees and 20 full-time technical employees for every company.
- During each fashion season, each fashion house should showcase a collection of 50 or more unique day and night designs.
Registered and Accredited Haute Couture Houses
There are three types of Haute Couture brands: members who are registered, guests who are guests, and foreign members or correspondents. Listed below are the members who have registered.
- Adeline André
- Alexandre Vauthier
- Alexis Mabille
- Atelier Gustavolins
- Bouchra Jarrar
- Christian Dior
- Franck Sorbier
- Jean Paul Gaultier
- Julian Fournié
- Maurizio Galante
- Stéphane Rolland
Top Successful Haute Couture Brands
The Christian Dior brand is a French high-end luxury brand that offers a variety of categories, including beauty products, fragrances, jewelry, ready-to-wear, and Haute Couture. The brand was recognized in 2014 as an Haute Couture label by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. In the late 40s, Christian Dior himself founded the brand and it was first displayed during a fashion exhibition in the summer of 1947. "New Look" was exhibited in salons at Dior's Paris headquarters located at 30 Avenue Montaigne and was highly acclaimed by the chief editor of another famous brand.
Several other designers followed the New Look series in the following decade as a result of the trend in the late 1940s. Due to his popularity, he acquired affiliations with influential individuals in Hollywood, the United States, and the European aristocracy. During the mid-40s, Dior expanded from France and opened a store in New York; he contributed about 77% of the revenue gained from exports in the fashion sector in Paris and 6% in its home country.
By the end of the 1960s, Marc Bohan had been appointed as the brand's designer. In his operations, he was conservative and was recognized by Rebecca Arnold for keeping Dior at the top of the fashion industry. Dior opened stores in New York, Tokyo, and Los Angeles in the first decade of the 1990s and its stake in its parent company, Louis Vuitton, heightened to about 47%. Furthermore, the company released a Black Moon-inspired watch collection in 1990 known as Bagheera, resulting in annual revenue of nearly $130 million and an annual operating profit of nearly $22.5 million.
At this stage, Christian Dior restructured into 3 core segments:
- Ready to Wear (Men, Women, Children, Lingerie)
- Men’s Clothing
- Jewelry and Accessories
The Late 90s and The 21st Century
Dior's revenues peaked at nearly $179 million in 1995, with an income of almost $27 million. In 2000 and 2001, the fashion house produced more perfume collections, and 130 boutiques were operated in the following year. A major factor contributing to its success is its collaborations with celebrities and personalities of the highest calibre. The company selected Rihanna as its spokesperson in 2015, while Sofia Mechetner, an Israeli model, was chosen as its face in 2016. Many notable individuals have been styled by the luxury fashion house, including Jennifer Lawrence. During the 21st century, it utilized a social media strategy to communicate with its audience. The organization conducted virtual campaigns through its social media profiles and those of its ambassadors.
In 2021, Dior generated over €64 billion in revenue with an operating margin of 27%, compared to a margin of 19% in 2020. The company is currently valued at over 7 billion dollars and operates over 220 Dior stores worldwide.
Gabrielle Coco Chanel founded her namesake brand in 1909 as a small shop on Boulevard Malesherbes. Located in a building with a salon for elites and wealthy people, Chanel was able to affiliate her store with wealthy women who became her customers. As a luxury fashion and cosmetic brand, Chanel is best known for its fragrance line, beauty products, ready-to-wear, and jewelry.
After the First World War, Chanel established a dominant boutique near the Hôtel Ritz to counter the adverse effects of the war on fashion in Europe. Her product line included blazers, skirts, sweaters made of jersey material, blouses for sailors, etc. The collection was successful thanks to the collection’s body-sculpting properties along with jersey materials that are easy to wash (an important quality given the circumstances of the time). The style and products of Chanel were prevalent throughout France in 1915. Many customers in France continued to purchase them as top buys until 1917. The essence of elegance is simplicity, according to Coco Chanel.
Alain Weithmeir’s Significance
Upon the passing of Coco Chanel in 1971, Alain Wertheimer assumed leadership of the company in 1974. Among many accomplishments, Alain's primary focus was strategizing the marketing strategy for the No. 5 product line. Creating a sense of exclusivity enabled Alain to enlist the endorsement of prominent celebrities such as Audrey Tautou to raise further market awareness and increase sales.
It was an extremely intelligent and strategic move for Chanel, since the perfume's sales increased significantly and with them, the brand's reputation. As a result, No. 5 fragrances earned the 'iconic' title, and the brand's retail outlets increased significantly. At that time, there were 41 stores around the world. As of the end of the decade, Chanel sold products ranging from 200 to 11,000 US dollars and although the company only sold its perfume and cosmetic goods in retail locations, the brand had an increased market value of about 5.5 billion US dollars.
In the early 21st century, the Haute Couture brand had opened approximately 26 stores throughout the United States. With more than 315 outlets across the globe, Chanel employs more than 20,000 people from various continents. Furthermore, its products are constantly increasing in price, with the Grand Extrait costing approximately $31,000 for 30 ounces. According to estimates, the brand value of the company was over $13 billion in 2021.
Givenchy was founded in 1952 by Hubert de Givenchy. In addition to cotton blown-up skirts and blouses, he released a collection entitled "Les Séparables," which gained him some recognition from Vogue magazine. A growing number of prominent models began to work with the house as the brand flourished, resulting in further exposure for Dorian Leigh. Known for his natural cotton collections known as "shirting," Givenchy became well known for his shirt collections. In 1954, he designed the first shirt dress, and later, he created the world's first ready-to-wear fashion line, Givenchy Université. In addition, Hubert developed a men's fashion line in the late 1960s.
Throughout the following decade, the fashion company created a wide range of fashion products, including shoes, ties, tableware, kimonos, and jewelry. As a result of this diversification, Hubert received high-end contracts such as decorating every Hilton hotel worldwide and the Continental Mark V. In addition to being an Haute Couture brand, it has styled notable persons at special events like Madonna's Sticky and Sweet tour. There have also been many celebrities who have showcased Givenchy's designs, including Meghan Markle, who wore a Givenchy wedding dress on her big day. Additionally, she wore Givenchy to the 2018 Fashion Awards and Remembrance Sunday. As part of her wedding with Kanye West, Kim Kardashian wore a custom-tailored Givenchy gown worth 500,000 US dollars. Haute Couture brands have received a great deal of support from the Kardashians and Jenners.
Currently, Givenchy has more than 80 stores in 68 countries, with an estimated 4300 employees. The price of one of the company's high-luxury bags in 2018 was almost $5000. As of 2020, it was estimated that its net worth would be approximately 2.1 billion dollars, and its annual revenue would exceed 900 million dollars. Additionally, more than 962,000 people used the brand's female perfume and Eau De toilette in the same year. Europe constitutes over 40% off Givenchy’s customers with China ranking a close second.
In addition to ready-to-wear outfits for women and men, Balenciaga also designs, accessories, fragrances, and haute couture. In 1919, Balenciaga began operations in Spain under the leadership of its founder, Cristóbal Balenciaga. In time, it expanded to other regions of the country, including Barcelona. Cristóbal’s career was marked by prominence and patronage from the Royal House of Spain; however, the Civil War forced him to relocate to Paris. As early as 1937, the company's fashion house began operation and featured designs promoting Spanish culture.
In the late 1930s, his designs were extremely widespread, and some of his buyers risked their lives during the Second World War just to catch a glimpse of his products in Europe. He was known for his artistic designs and high-quality creations during the 1950s and 1960s. The wedding gown of Belgium's Queen Fabiola was designed by him in 1960, as well as gowns for a number of other high-profile individuals. During the early 2000s, the brand created outfits for Jennifer Conelly for the Academy Awards.
In addition to being one of the most well-known Haute Couture brands, it is also widely known for its handbags based on motorcycle designs. There are currently eight upscale stores in the United States and more than 185 stores worldwide, with more than 2100 employees. Although its net worth is unknown, it generated approximately 2.3 billion US dollars in revenue in 2021.
The difference Between Couture and Haute Couture
In the world of fashion, couture can be defined as any piece of clothing that is hand-crafted and unique. On the other hand, haute couture is referred to as anything made by luxury fashion houses or ateliers that is regulated by the French government and is regulated on a global scale.
Due to their strict adherence to standards and regulations, Haute Couture brands will remain highly sought after. Despite the success of these few registered houses, some old flourishing members may return to the organization in the near future. It is also possible for other members to top the fame chart soon due to their involvement with highly recognized individuals and the development of new, unique styles.