Images courtesy of Vogue.com
Haute couture is synonymous with France, yet, it was an Englishman that is said to have first created it. Charles Frederick Worth, known to many as the ‘father of haute couture’, was born in the Lincolnshire market town of Bourne. Having arrived in Paris with little money and no French, his expert tailoring at Gagelin-Opigez & Cie was quickly noted and in 1858 he set up his own business. Royalty flocked to wear garments designed by him and made especially for them. His work required meticulous attention to detail and craftsmanship, just as haute couture does today. It was in the 1880s, though, that the House of Worth developed what we now view as the characteristics of a modern day haute couture house, including bi-annual collections and brand extensions.
Today members are selected by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, which states that its members must design made-to-order clothes for private clients, with more than one fitting, using an atelier that employs at least 15 staff. Alongside this, there must also be 20 technical workers in one of their workshops, and a minimum of 50 designs, all original, for both day and evening garments, must be presented to the public every season, in January and July.
Couture takes time in an age when time is of the essence and everyone wants the latest trend. But couture is to be enjoyed at ones leisure. Take a look at three of the most well-known couture names showcasing their autumn winter 2019 showstoppers.
I can’t discuss Paris haute couture without mentioning Chanel. This show isn’t just about the clothes. There are the many famous faces present, dressed in gorgeous Chanel outfits, there are the smaller details, such as the make-up, that make a big impact, and then there is the splendid set design. It might sound bizarre that Chanel would choose to create something so brilliant that it detracts from the garments, but this is haute couture, a vision with so many aspects to take pleasure in. Many people on the planet cannot regularly afford ready-to-wear, let alone couture, so this is a beautiful way to lose yourself in the fantasy of fashion and enjoy every facet of it.
This season, Karl Lagerfeld, creative director at Chanel, gave us a vision into his everyday life viewed from his Paris apartment, when not jet setting around the globe. In front of the attendees at the show, green painted wooden stands of the bouquinistes, booksellers of used and antiquarian books, stood along the edge of the River Seine, framed by the glorious Institut de France, putting the focus firmly on this famous French city, home of the German designer for over half a century.
Predictably, the show was as distinctively Chanel as ever, and yet it still continues to draw people in. Long, tweed skirts could be provocatively unzipped to reveal miniskirts beneath. The classic little black dress updated with chiffon pleats, trapped at the hips to billow outwards, as well as scalloped shoulders, and high, wide collars reminiscent of a classic Chanel tweed suit.
But it is always the finer details that make couture the high priestess of fashion. The unzipping revealed finer details, exclusively for the wearer to covet and own, including embroidery on the miniskirt beneath, and silk and chiffon linings quilted by hand on the shoulder zips. These finer points take it from a catwalk show to an intimate meeting between couturier and client.
This set immediately dazzled with its intimacy. Cotton toiles of each look from the show covered the place from floor to ceiling. A mirrored ceiling allowed the attendee to view, somewhat voyeuristically, the models from above, making the space look larger but never taking away from the couturier to client intimacy of this space.
Billowing sleeves to the elbows started the show, in black and nude of every possible shade you can imagine. Deep V’s and a splash of ‘camo’ couture, in keeping with Maria Grazia Chiuri’s strong championing of the female, kept this collection from looking too quiet...each look was subtle, and whilst certain garments blended too easily into one, the showstoppers were very much in the detail.
Frayed edges and a single long earring resting close to the shoulder, along with bronze outfits that almost blended into the models red/bronze hair. And then there was the delicate, sculptured embroidery and a showstopper, Missoni-esque printed dress. All of these, alongside the simple, yet distinctive, shades, hinted at a woman less interested in the glitz of couture and more interested in the dedication of the atelier.
From these two stunning set designs at Chanel and Dior, to an outside space where little was required except an alluring silvery mirrored catwalk. Taking place at Paris’s Archives Nationales, this is the first Givenchy couture show since the death of the fashion house’s founder, Hubert de Givenchy.
Clare Waight Keller, unknown to many until that Meghan Markle wedding dress, decided it was perfectly apt to take inspiration from Hubert’s early designs and his collaboration with muse Audrey Hepburn. Fashion is always very keen to show that it is ahead of the game and looking forward, even though many trends are modern updates of old classics. Here, Waight Keller has respectfully given a nod to the ideas that the house was founded on, without creating direct copies. Those without any prior knowledge of the house’s history would not view this show as dated. The striking swathes of silver, and the velvet, hooded little black dress, put paid to that.
The shades were a little punchier than at Chanel or Dior, with bold pinks and oranges weaved into a palette of royal blue, black and white. There were more deep V necklines and voluminous sleeves, whilst menswear, always a refreshing sight to see in a couture show, was perfectly tailored with nipped in waists, sharp shoulders and long, exaggerated tails. It was a shame that the catwalk appeared too narrow when models were passing one another, with some almost getting lost amongst the billowing capes. But that was a simple digression from a strong show that is sure to put Waight Keller, and her team of atelier members who stepped out with her at the end, further onto the fashion map.
Dior’s set design was wonderfully intimate, even for a YouTube viewer. In comparison, Givenchy was entirely about the clothes. And Chanel blended the two perfectly together. But it is Givenchy that has evoked the most feeling. This show felt a touch nostalgic for a time past in couture, but also, an excitement is stirred as you recognise that couture is still a flourishing, yet specialised industry.
This is when fashion is at its best. Couture is an art form, and art evokes emotion. The hours spent on each creation, the specialism involved, and the dedication it requires, all add to a stunning finale. And when rules and regulations require the creation of 50+ outfits, for day and night, it is a feat of artistry in itself to dress so many models!
So take some time to sit back, as any couturier would wish you to do, and enjoy the exquisite craftsmanship that I hope we will never lose.
About Our Author: Katie Calvert's background is in fashion and textiles with a first class honours degree in Fashion Communication and Promotion and experience in trend, PR and events. She decided to take the plunge back into education in 2015 to complete a Master of Arts in Multimedia Journalism. Using these newfound skills and her love of fashion and culture, Katie has been freelance writing for over a year.