Five Things You Didn’t Know About Haute Couture

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High Fashion

French for “high sewing” or “high fashion”, haute couture refers to the creation of exclusive bespoke clothing. Entirely constructed by hand in extremely time-consuming techniques, haute couture uses only fabric of exceptional quality that is often unusual and sewn with extreme precision. Given the considerable effort that goes into each piece, such as time, money and skill, haute couture garments are known to be made without the consideration of price. Only 2,200 seamstresses are deemed qualified to work on couture pieces, in a collective titled ‘Les petite mains’, which literally means small hands.

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Long Hours

The Autumn Winter 16 Ralph and Russo Haute Couture was not without a monumental record of 50 embroiders across 6,000 hours, with 736 meters of silk tulle. You had an idea that the sky’s the limit when it comes to haute couture, were price is negligible in the creation of a truly glamorous number, with the average couture daywear ensemble demanding an average of 100 to 700 hours, depending on the added embroideries, embellishments and intricacies. The pieces that eventually make it on the runway are not for sale, however, and are displayed simply to demonstrate a designer’s work, as if art.

Members Only

French law requires that the term haute couture is reserved for fashion houses that fulfil a number of descriptors. Has it produced 35 limited, hand-sewn made-to-order day and evening pieces? Were these pieces designed by a team of at least 15 full-time employees? Are the collections presented twice each year? Finally, to bear the official term Haute Couture is to be invited to join the members-only Chambre Syndicale, which organizes the biannual couture week in Paris.

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Big Names

Dior, Chanel, Givenchy and Jean Paul Gaultier are some of the noteworthy members of the Chambre Syndicale. There are presently 14 members as of Spring 2017, with the list is newly drawn up every year. The 2005 documentary mini-series, Signé Chanel, provided a rare look behind-the-scenes of a couture house and the process of making a full collection.

Extremely Exclusive

The Golden Age of French Fashion commonly refers to the period between World War 1 and 2, which saw haute couture flourishing and finding new clients amongst the ranks of film actresses, American heiresses and more. Whilst the golden age saw about 15,000 women wearing couture, the today’s figure is estimated at a mere fraction with only 2,000 couture customers. Pieces are also often lent to actresses and public figures to garner publicity.

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