Iconic. Timeless. Chic. All words that probably come to mind when the average millennial thinks “couture.” But when and where did couture first originate, and how did it evolve to reach such an elaborate and sophisticated status? These are questions that are commonly left unanswered.
Since its earliest days, couture has been the source of a variety of great fashion masterpieces. It all started in 1858, when Charles Fredrick Worth established the first haute couture atelier, or workshop, in Paris, France. Couture started as an exclusive luxury fashion market for upper class Parisian woman. All dresses were custom designed, intricately handmade and embellished according to the request of the customer.
In 1868, Worth created Le Chambre Syndicale de La Haute Couture, stating the qualifying requirements that signify the title of haute couture. The requirements entail the need for couture designs to be custom-made upon request, the brand must have an atelier centered in Paris, there must be at least 20 workers per one atelier, and the brand must present a collection of at least 35 run throughs to the Parisian press twice each year.
As Harper’s Bazaar puts it, a couture artisan is “an artist in lieu of the basic dressmaker.” Producing haute couture is a title- it signifies the finest of the fine. With the handmade intricacy and time that is spent on making each dress and garment, it is no surprise that the amount of brands producing haute couture are very few. Top designers such as Chanel, Versace, Dior, Elie Saab, and Valentino are among the few brands who have ateliers in Paris.
Creating couture starts with a vision and ends with a masterpiece. The work requires extreme attention to detail and craftsmanship. Haute couture is all done by hand with no additional help from a sewing machine involved. High quality fabrics are cut to fit the dimensions, and pieces of fabric are hand sewn together. Embellishments come next, adding unique and exquisite detail to each garment. A couture dress that was handcrafted by an Elie Saab atelier had nearly 20,000 embellishments, and was comprised of 8,000 sequins, 1,000 pearls, 10,000 tubes, and 1,000 stones. These embellishments of gems, pearls, stones, and designs are what make each couture piece jaw droppingly unique and beautiful.
It has been estimated that there are approximately 4,000 couture clients in the world- “clients” meaning those who custom order and buy couture frequently. This small market is not surprising, considering the price for a newly custom made couture dress starts at $60,000. With such high price points, those that are able to spend their money on couture dresses are very few.
Since its creation over 150 years ago, haute couture has embraced some of the most iconic fashion moments of the century. From Grace Kelly’s quintessential couture looks to Dior’s “haute off the runway” couture masterpieces, this elaborate styling continues to inspire and cultivate the world of fashion.