What is Haute Couture?
I first came across this term when I began researching wedding dresses and their designers, and likey you've come across it too. I was soon able to say it was linked to luxury, but never really knew the specifics. So what is Haute Couture exactly?
It was only through reading books written by designers that I learnt the 'ins and outs' of what 'Haute Couture' means, and since Dior is a prominent Haute Couture house, I thought I'd talk a little about it.
Let me begin with what seems to me the most important requirement-
That is, that each piece of clothing must be made specific to the measurements of each client...Think of the typical scene of a woman with glasses slipping a tape measure round the waste of an already-elegantly-dressed lady, who's standing on a little raised platform in front of a mirror.
Nowadays made to measure seems a novelty, and in many ways Haute Couture really is. I was shocked to be told that there are less than twenty Haute Couture houses left in the world- I found myself really wishing there were more, but then on the other hand the exclusive side is fairly sad.
But wonderfully, there is an exception to this exclusivity. And that's in wedding dresses! The wedding dress industry means that made to measure can be available for any woman. Few and scattered are the wedding shops that do not offer these services- and those are pretty much only online stores that use high street sizes and sell cheaply, or outlet stores only stocking sample dresses made for mannequins. These can be a lifesaver to the hurried-for-time bride, but not at all ideal for one who has the time to expect perfection from her gown- including the fit of a glove.
Included in this process, to be defined as 'Haute Couture' the house must produce at least one trial garment for each order. This is so that both client and seamstress are happy with how it is to be made, and no fine fabrics are wasted. I found it fascinating that in the exhibition the sample garments were on display...
I had no idea what they were, and for ages thought it was simply a white-themed room. I was saying what a divine wedding dress that would be, and how I'd definitely choose it, when my friend figured out they were only the samples of the dresses in the coming room. It makes me wonder what they did with the samples, because I would have happily have picked them up if the seamstress didn't think much of them. This dress below I adored the structure of. It instantly made me think of an Italian wedding in a grapevine chalet, and I pictured myself in it, under the dusty sun with a glass of wine in hand.
It instantly made me think of an Italian wedding in a grapevine chalet, and I pictured myself in it, under the dusty sun with a glass of wine in hand.
Secondly, the fashion house must present to the public a collection- of a minimum of 50 designs- every January and July of every year. This is made up of both day wear, and evening wear, though personally the evening gowns would be the part I'd be longing for.
The last requirement is to have an atelier, that is a fashion studio, in Paris. This seemed an odd one to me, as though Paris quickly became the centre of fashion after the Second World War, I thought what about the renowned fashion houses in Italy- Florence and Milan- and other parts of Europe? But apparently these houses must have a studio in Paris, if they were to be listed as Haute Couture.
I have never been to Paris, but one day I would love to go especially for the clothes. I'd like to explore all the wedding shops, and see for myself if there's a difference between the Parisian bridal wear, and the designs to be found in Britain.
You may have noticed I also put images from another room into this post. There, we were shown tiny editions of the garments, samples I'm more inclined to call prototypes because they make me think of the little houses architects build. I can't imagine how they were sewn, but granted there must have been some talented women at the time with sharp eyes.
I wanted to quickly mention the one below, the last photo of this post. Small as it may be, it caught my eye because of some sort of familiarity I found in it. For the summer ball last August, I wore a gown identical in colour and shape to this. The guests kindly voted for me to be awarded the title of 'the best dress', which made me come away feeling warm.
But I have to admit I preferred this little model of a dress to my own- it has buttons! I find them the most wonderful addition to the bodice. I would have much preferred a tulle-inspired top to continue the theme of the skirt, which was something else wonderfully executed in this design, and it lacks the sequins which always made me unsure of the bodice. Also, the side bow is an addition I'd call delicate. It's not at all loud like most bows, but instead fabulously elegant.
Nevertheless, it was a nice feeling to know that I was wearing something very similar to a gown some wealthy lady ordered one day in the past, and some Dior model swept around in on one of those dazzling January or July showcases...