The History of Haute Couture

As students, designer fashion looks from the runways are (for the majority of us) WAY out of our budget. Yet when the fashion shows come around we usually find some way to steal the hot trends by finding similar items to recreate those looks for a hundredth of the price. However, when it’s time for the haute couture shows to come around, this recreation is practically impossible. Haute Couture definitely isn’t to everyone’s tastes, because on one hand – why would you want to see pieces that cost more than people’s homes being flaunted down the runway? On the other hand, however, haute couture is definitely the more artistic side to fashion and there is a lot of beauty to be found in this art.

Haute couture is the essence of high fashion and it’s catwalks are the image of perfection, down to every last detail. Perfection is probably one of the most prominent features of the beauty of couture, every garment is hand-crafted and the hours put into every piece are boundless. All of the hours taken to make these items add to the exclusivity of the garments as they are custom-made and attention to detail is taken very seriously. The fabrics used are very expensive quality fabrics and can oftentimes include unusual materials or exclusive fabrics which adds to the reasoning behind the hefty price tags of the items. The history behind haute couture comes from none other than the elite class of Parisians, who in the 19th century, went to couture houses to create something that would make them stand out from the rest, something that couldn’t be copied. And so the term haute couture has stuck, coming from the french word “haute” meaning “high” and “couture” meaning “dressmaking”.

Only certain fashion houses are deemed “worthy” enough to be couturiers and this is judged by both the Fédération Française de la Couture and the French Ministry of Industry. These have very strict regulations and standards that need to be met in order for a fashion house to be considered a couturier. This roughly includes offering personal fittings and a made-to-measure clothing service to clients, it also includes having a workshop or an atelier located in Paris which employs over twenty full-time staff members, as well as presenting two collections per year. Each of which must present at least fifty original designs consisting of both daywear and evening-wear in the months of January and July each year. Some of these couturiers include Chanel, Christian Dior and Elie Saab to name a few. These fashion houses have the finest seamstresses and the most skilled labourers in every single speciality working for them in order to produce their haute couture pieces.

Although the original market was French socialites, they are no longer those who purchase these exquisite pieces. Instead, nowadays buyers are from the Middle East, China and Russia. Every year, the haute couture shows are the place to look to get a glimpse of what the A-listers might wear to one of the future red carpet events, which gives exposure to the brand. They can be purchased for a number of reasons but the main reason being that that are collectors’ items, and so, will steadily increase in price over the years which makes for a clever business investment. Although the pricing of these garments are so expensive, it’s very rare that fashion houses ever make any profit from their couture collection. This is entirely due to the prices of the unique materials used as well as the high labour costs. Some of the items can take over seven hundred hours to produce, and so the price has to reflect all of the work that was put into it. As a matter of fact, having a couture line can be seen as a bad business investment in the sense that it doesn’t bring in much money, if any at all. However, it can also be argued that the couture line adds to the exclusive image of the brand which over time would be worth the money loss. This is more than likely the reason that the number of couturiers has decreased dramatically over the years. Houses such as Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent, Lanvin, Carven are a few of the many former members of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture.  


Shannon Doherty – Fashion Editor

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