Haute couture (French for 'high sewing') is a common term for high
fashion as produced in Paris and imitated in other fashion capitals such
as New York, London, and Milan. Sometimes it is used only to refer to French
fashion; at other times it refers to any unique stylish design made to order
for wealthy and high-status clients.
The term can refer to:
In France, the label "haute couture" is a protected appellation.
A certain number of formal criteria (number of employees, participation
in fashion shows...) must be met for a fashion house to use the label; a
list of eligible houses is made official every year by the French Ministry
of Industry. The haute couture houses belong to the professional union the
Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture.
The French term for
ready-to-wear (not custom fitted) fashion
-porter. Every haute couture house also markets Pret-
-porter collections, which typically deliver a higher return on investment
than their custom clothing. Failing revenues have forced a few couture houses
to abandon their less profitable couture division and concentrate solely
on the less prestigious Pret-
-porter. These houses are no longer haute couture.
French leadership in European fashion may perhaps be dated from the 18th
century, when the art, architecture, music, and fashions of the French court
at Versailles were imitated across Europe. Visitors to Paris brought back
clothing that was then copied by local dressmakers. Stylish women also ordered
fashion dolls from Paris -- dolls dressed in the latest Parisian fashions,
to serve as
As railroads and steamships made European travel easier, it was increasingly
common for wealthy women to travel to Paris to shop for clothing and accessories.
French fitters and
seamstresses were commonly thought to be
the best in Europe, and real Parisian garments were considered better than
local imitations. The first
couturier to establish international dominance
was Charles Frederick Worth (1826-1895.) Even New York socialites crossed
the Atlantic Ocean to order clothes from Worth.
Following in Worth's footsteps were: Patou, Poiret, Vionnet, Fortuny,
Lanvin, Chanel, Schiaparelli, Balenciaga, and Dior. Some of these fashion
houses still exist today, under the leadership of modern designers.
In the 1960s a group of young designers who had trained under men like
Dior and Balenciaga left these established couture houses and opened their
own establishments. The most successful of these young men were Yves Saint
Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Andre Courreges, and Emmanuel Ungaro.
Lacroix is perhaps the most successful of the fashion houses to have
been started in the last decade.