Haute Couture, A World Unexplored – From the 1800s to Now

Haute Couture isn’t a world unknown. It is, however, ridiculously exclusive, and is just known to the crème de la crème of the tycoons. Haute Couture, if you have never heard of it before, is the top-tier of fashion. It is where true fashion begins.

The world is continually depending more and more on fast fashion brands to keep up with the transient nature of trends. This comes from the fast pace of social media and its ‘influencer’ culture.  This culture reinforces the need for the public to buy clothes that match trends that social media celebrities or actors and performers have been wearing at that very moment.

Fast fashion brands target this inherent insecurity of people and rip-off these high price designs and sell them at much lower and affordable rates. However, despite me going off on my self-righteous rant about fast fashion, Haute Couture is not about that. And today, we are going to talk exclusively about Haute Couture. So buckle up, because we are first going to go on a history ride.

When Did Haute Couture First Start?

So the first thing you have to know, Haute Couture is entirely born of French fashion and culture. It is full of history and nostalgia; you could call it centuries of traditional fashion evolving into an exclusive all members club of the most revered fashion brands in the world. Haute Couture was first seen in the year of 1858, with what is a very humble start. Charles Fredrick Worth established the first couture house, subsequently coining the term ‘fashion designer’.  The term was to simply distinguish between them and the common dressmaker. The Chamber of High Fashion or Le Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture is this administrative body that keeps strong checks on the culture. Everything about couture went by them and soon they became the safeguard of high fashion.

A few decades later, in the 1920s, a French press was created to protect these fashion designers, from design piracy. This French press was called PAIS, L’Association de Protection des Industries Artistiques Saisonnieres.

What started as a single fashion house in Paris then became a huge sensation, at least within rich circles. With the introduction of new fashion brands and houses, the Chambre Syndicale introduced a set of rules for the production of designs. These rules consisted of the following. Each couturier had to have at least 20 permanent wait staff, designs would now be specific to the client. The dress can be arranged with one to more fittings and that each house must produce at least 35 runs each season. These 35 runs were supposed to have both day wear and night wear in them.

Why Did Haute Couture Go From an Epoch of High Fashion to Only Existing Within The Realm of The Ultra Rich?

The War. The second world war had come down hard on all hand dressmakers, i.e, tailors or designers that stitched and sewed each outfit specifically catering to the client. However, the war needed huge amounts of clothing, which was free of designs like ruffles or tulles. Due to shortage of cloth, it was becoming more and more difficult to create the old styles that haute couture specialized in.

Haute Couture, A World Unexplored - From the 1800s to Now
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Many of the houses that Haute couture well, housed, had to withdraw from this high-pricey community and diversify into the fast fashion era. The industry had to stay under wraps till Christian Dior, founder and leading fashion designer of the custom brand Dior, came up with his ‘New Look’ collection that took off. We know the group today as the collection that keeps the essence of Haute couture alive.

However, despite these attempts, houses started withdrawing from the haute couture culture and expanding into freestanding couture boutique. Many brands such as Pierre Cardin, Yves Saint Laurent, Andre Courreges were part of these. With the diminishing profit in the Haute Couture industry, brands had to drop out and establish independent boutiques on their own.

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Why Doesn’t Haute Couture bring in profits if it is so expensive?

Haute Couture was a culture that is there to present. There are no profits in haute couture. The designs, workforce, hours and material consumes so much that artists don’t gain much in the process. Well, not much except for acclaim. Designers who have successfully pulled off a line in Haute Couture are amongst the greatest in the world. They are trendsetters, with their designs dictating the style of clothes to be worn in the times to come.

Zuhair Murad haute couture
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Take, for example, the faux fur trend. Faux fur at first was exclusive to only haute couture considering the effort it took to design and make into an outfit. However, it came to soon signify a person’s high social status in life and society. Due to these reasons, demand amongst the common populace grew and soon enough, factories started manufacturing faux fur for almost every outfit.

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Will It Disappear?

Well, in some way it already has. Haute Couture is a highly seasonal production. There are about 70 outfits every year and then no more. All of these dresses are ridiculously expensive and definitely need more than 2 fittings. Each outfit can take from 100 to 400 hours. With all these factors taken into account, it is virtually impossible for the style of haute couturing to keep up with fast fashion.

Haute couture blue
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If we need to convince you more on this, here are some things about fast fashion. Fast fashion refers specifically to cheap clothes which look partially like knock offs of designer material. We throw them away as fast as we can because of their very small shelf life. Fast fashion endorses about 52 seasons each year. This means that there are new designs of clothes out and up in the market every week of the year. This especially caters to the highly digitally dependent population. Everyone sees somebody else wearing a more trendy style and demand increases. MNC’s cater to this and supply new, stylish designs. However, it is at the cost of pushing haute couture out of the picture and destroying the environment.

However, Haute Couture has withdrawn from the public eye for the most part. It now exists and creates only for the richest of the rich, making epoch changing fashion trends in the background. You could learn more about the history of Haute Couture here.

Author of Barbershop Shenanigans: The Story of How My Dad Became The Town's Thug. Writer, part time editor and content creator.

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