Paris and fashion have a long and storied history, and Haute Couture is the pinnacle of French elegance and opulence. It is not out of the ordinary to commission a team of the world’s finest accomplished artisans and craftsmen to create a one-of-a-kind garment from scratch, complete with the client’s specifications woven into every stitch. Neither of these things is brand new. Let’s learn everything there is to know about haute couture history.
Haute Couture History- Overview
Ask anyone about haute couture, and they’ll definetly point or cite Charles Fredrick Worth. He’s everything we see in hauture today. However it doesn’t make sense to learn more about haute couture history without familiarizing ourselves with a few essential things, including hature couture definition and examples.
What Is Haute Couture?
Couture is the French word for dressmaking, and haute is French for “high.” These are one-of-a-kind clothes made to order. The Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, founded by Englishman Charles Frederick Worth in the 19th century, now chooses its members. Haute couture, in its simplest definition, is the art of making exquisite, individually crafted garments for the wealthy. Many of the garments are still substantially hand-stitched, and they frequently have hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind decorations, notions, and trimmings.
Examples of Haute Couture
Some of the biggest names in haute couture include Christian Dior, Chanel, Versace, and Ellie Saab. In recent years, the name “couture” has been used by a wide variety of fashion houses, not all of them are officially classified as “Haute Couture.” Juicy Couture, a label known for its laid-back clothes, is a good illustration of this.
Haute Couture History- Origins, Evolution, and Current State
This haute couture history section discusses the beginning and evolution of haute couture.
Evidence of haute couture dates all the way back to the 17th century. The introduction of fashion and haute couture to France can be traced back to Rose Bertin, the court dressmaker of Marie Antoinette. Travelers to Paris often brought back garments that were quickly replicated by local seamstresses. Fashionable ladies commissioned gowns from Paris’s hottest designers to wear as models.
With the advent of railroads and steamships, it became increasingly customary for well-to-do women to make the trip to Paris in search of fashionable new threads and accessories. The best tailors and seamstresses in Europe were deemed to be French, and authentic Parisian fashions were favored above cheap knockoffs sold in other countries.
Charles Fredrick the the first couturier
Haute Couture may have started in France but it was a concept born of an Englishman once famed but now largely forgotten by the mainstream. Born in 1825, Charles Frederick Worth began his training in London before moving to Paris in 1845 and working as a dress salesman for Gagelin.
Charles graduated to the dressmaking department and won acclaim for displays at the 1851 Great exhibition in London and the 1855 Paris Exposition Universelle. In 1858, The House of Worth opened it’s doors and was one of the first houses to use live models to showcase designs to clients. Charles Fredrick established the first Couture House at number 7, rue de la Paix in Paris. All Worth’s evening dresses featured lavish textiles trimmings and ornamental embroidery. In time Worth became known as ‘The Father of Haute Couture.’
The House of Worth attracted many customers who made the trip to Paris specifically to buy multiple garments. Morning, afternoon, and evening costumes as well as extravagant “undress” items like tea gowns and nightgowns, worn only in the privacy of one’s own house, made up the entirety of the affluent woman’s wardrobe. Worth was also a go-to for women in need of formal wear for events like weddings and elaborate masquerade balls, a popular American and European pastime.
Some of his then-notable clients included:
- Napoleon III
- Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary- Elizabeth
- Ranavalona, Queen of Madagascar
- Queen of Sweden- Louisa
- Maria Cristina, Queen of Spain
- Empress Eugenie
Worth also catered to Broadway and music artists. Lillie Langtry, Jenny Lind, Nellie Melba, and Sarah Bernhardt were just some of the famous performers and vocalists whose personal outfits he outfitted.
Hauture Couture in the 20th Century
It wasn’t until the 1870s that Worth’s name began to appear regularly in mainstream fashion journals, broadening his fanbase beyond aristocratic ladies. The early 20th century saw significant progress in Haute Couture thanks to the efforts of designers like Jacques Doucet, Rouff, the Callot Soeurs, Janne Paquin, Paul Poiret, Louise Chéruit, Madeleine Vionnet, and Elsa Schiaparelli. Schiaparelli’s partnership with French embroidery business Lesage, in which she interpreted motifs designs from Christian Berard, Jean Cocteau, and Salvador Dal, is one example of her innovative approach to embroidery that contributed to the international success of French Haute Couture.
Coco, or Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, started the Chanel fashion house in 1909 and is often credited with freeing women from the corset and introducing the concept of “casual chic.” She started her business in the 1910s when she employed a group of Russian immigrants to help her realize her needlework designs at a studio. And by the time WWII broke out, she had a workforce of 3,000 women and closed her stores since ‘it was not a time for fashion.’
Her life was full of drama and controversy, but she left behind a legacy of iconic fashion: the Chanel suit and the little black dress. Her clothes typically had simple lines and were given a feminine and romantic touch with the help of tulle, lace, or embroidery. Coco Chanel passed away in 1970, and Karl Lagerfeld took over as creative director and lead designer for the Chanel brand in 1983. Lagerfeld’s habit of drawing heavily from the Chanel archive season after season is more evidence that Chanel’s original vision was as timeless as it was revolutionary, and the house is now more successful than ever.
Another Haute Couturier in Christian Dior
Christian Dior, another famous French couturier, got his start in the industry as an assistant to Robert Piguet. Piguet was a hub for young designers like Dior, Pierre Balmain, and Marc Bohan. “Robert Piguet taught me the qualities of simplicity through which true elegance must arrive,” Dior stated of his time at Piguet. In 1940, Dior was forced to leave the fashion industry to serve in the military. There is scant information on the final two years of his service. During the Nazi occupation of France in 1942, Dior collaborated with fellow fashion designer Lucien Lelong to make couture garments for the spouses of Nazi officials and collaborators.
Alexis, Baron de Rede, a longtime friend of Dior’s, claims that Dior shared classified material with his sister, who was a member of the French resistance. He showed his appreciation by naming his first fragrance after her, Miss Dior. Although Christian Dior presented his first collection on December 16, 1946, many consider 1947 to be the actual year of inception for the House of Dior. Rationing throughout Europe in the years leading up to the war meant that clothing was more basic in style. In comparison, a typical Dior gown required 20 yards of fabric and heralded Paris’s comeback.
The World’s Stage for Fashion. After Dior’s first runway presentation, where he debuted 90 separate pieces, Harper’s Bazaar editor Carmel Snow coined the term “New Look” to characterize the groundbreaking collection she had just seen. Raf Simons, a well-known Belgian minimalist fashion designer, was the most recent high-profile Creative Director at Dior. Simons’s first collection for Dior, presented in the fall/winter of 2012, was titled “The new couture” (as chronicled in the 2015 film “Dior and I”), alluding to the beginning of a new era for the house of Dior through Simons’s designs. The Christian Dior brand continues to flourish and carry on the designer’s legacy.
1960s and ‘70s
A number of young designers who had apprenticed under more seasoned designers like Dior and Balenciaga in the 1960s went on to create their own couture houses. Yves Saint Laurent, André Courrèges, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro, and Ted Lapidus were among the most prominent of these up-and-coming designers.
Hanae Mori, a Japanese woman now residing in Paris, also achieved great success in launching her namesake collection. In 1970, Pierre Cardin hired an 18-year-old Jean Paul Gaultier after seeing some of his sketches. Gaultier’s meteoric rise to fashion fame began after the release of his first solo collection just six years later.
Haute Couture History in the 21st Century
From 2003 to 2010, he worked as the Creative Director at Hermes, which helped fund his Jean Paul Gaultier line. As recently as 2014, he was creating designs for not one, but three different collections, including his own haute couture and ready-to-wear lines for both men and women. He made the decision to retire his ready-to-wear labels at his Spring/Summer 2015 show so that he could devote more time to his first love, haute couture.
Elie Saab, who was born in Beirut and opened his first atelier with 15 employees when he was only 18 years old, was another early riser. His romantic crystal-encrusted gowns and feminine style combine Middle Eastern and European influences. After Halle Berry wore an Elie Saab gown to accept the Academy Award for Best Actress in Monster’s Ball, he became well-known all over the world.
S. Lock, an embroidery designer who has worked for major fashion houses since the middle of the 20th century, has been a mainstay in the industry. His client list includes the Emmanuels, Norman Hartnell, Jean Muir, Hardy Amies, Christian Dior, and Catherine Walker. This tradition was carried on by the most prominent designers of the twenty-first century, such as Chanel, Hermes, Givenchy, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, and JW Anderson, after the merger of M. Hand and S. Lock in 2001, which formed Hand & Lock. As of now, Hand & Lock is a staunch backer of international Haute Couture designers.
Haute Couture Today
The world’s finest museums and palaces, including Paris’s Palais de la Porte Dorée, Palais Galleria, and Musée Yves Saint-Laurent, Bordeaux’s Museum of Decorative Arts, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, and Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland, host annual Haute Couture exhibitions and events.
Some Parisian museums and galleries also provide fashion-related excursions. These displays, which range from historical figures to Couture fashion designers, are nothing short of incredible. The displays showcase the couturiers’ creative process, some never-before-seen items, and some amazing vintage designs; they are magical, theatrical, historical, and cinematic in nature. Shopping excursions led by a personal shopper are available in Paris for fashionistas from all over the world. It is in the center of the Triangle d’Or (Golden Triangle) in Paris that you will find the most prestigious Haute Couture boutiques in the world.
Haute Couture is all about escapism, fantasy, and unadulterated beauty. The finest of the best in haute couture for Spring 2022 was shown in Paris, and that included collections from Fendi, Dior, Schiaparelli, Chanel, and more.
Despite the fact that Worth wasn’t the first or only designer to operate this manner, his bold marketing strategies helped him gain the moniker “father of haute couture” and “the first couturier.” The widespread preservation of Worth’s work at The Costume Institute and other American institutions attests to the designer’s widespread acclaim amongst well-to-do Americans and European nobility. The term “couture” now appears regularly in mainstream media. Almost every clothing corporation on the planet has already used or registered it.