The art of fashion: Haute Couture

What people wear is important to them. From brand obsessing to looking “like you don’t care about fashion,” how we dress ourselves matters to both ourselves and those who view us.  Ready-to-wear collections give consumers pieces to wear and re-wear, mix and match and work into a wardrobe of day-to day clothing. These pieces are mass produced and sold in different sizes and colors in department stores and boutiques all over the world. They’re the type of clothing that if you want it, you can probably buy it.

But for some people, what they put on their bodies isn’t something that that gets hung up in a closet after being worn. It gets displayed. There are some pieces that are so special, very few people have the privilege of owning them. This is where haute couture comes in, creating limited or one-of-a-kind pieces for only the most discerning clients. Haute couture pieces are hand-made to order for a specific person and are only made from the highest quality materials. Each garment is stitched by hand by the best seamstresses and created to fit the customer.

 Dior Haute Couture

Emily Blunt in Dior

In France, the term “Haute couture” is protected, and can only be used by companies and fashion houses that meet certain standards. However, elsewhere, the term is loosly used to define custom-fitted clothing, regardless of where it is produced (though usually in Parist, Milan, London, New York or Tokyo). French Haute couture must adhere to the following guidelines:

•    Design made-to-order for private clients, with one or more fittings.
•    Have a workshop (atelier) in Paris that employs at least fifteen people full-time.
•    Each season (i.e., twice a year), present a collection to the Paris press, comprising at least thirty-five runs/exits with outfits for both daytime wear and evening wear.

Because clients are very selective and products are limited, it is very difficult for designers to make enough money to run their company by selling haute couture pieces alone. Today, nearly every designer that creates a haute couture line also creates a ready-to-wear line. This way, they appeal to those searching for special, made-to-order pieces, as well as the general population of high-fashion consumers.

Chanel Haute couture

A scene from "Coco before Chanel"

Chanel, who is legally couture by French law, uses haute couture to define their special collections, which are often either not for sale or are very difficult to purchase. With Chanel are other members of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture: Christian Dior, Givenchy, Jean Paul Gaultier, Christophe Josse, among very few others. But in other parts of the world, there are many other designers creating exclusive haute couture lines for their own selective customers.

Xuan-Thu Nguyen

European designer Xuan-Thu Nguyen creates a haute couture collection as well as Thu by Xuan-Thu Nguyen, a ready-to-wear collection. The haute couture line is very modern and geometric, with higher quality materials and more intricate manufacturing than the more youthful, more widely affordable Thu. Xuan-Thu Nguyen was first shown at Haute Couture Fashion Week in Paris, and has since continued to create garments whose magic lies in the detailing. This is an essential element to haute couture, and what separates it from lower-priced lines. “Many of my pieces look very simple from the outside but have a lot of work on the inside. It's not about making a big show of it; these are likely things that just the wearer and I will know,” said the designer.