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What exactly is Haute Couture?
Haute Couture, High Tailoring, is the epitome of fashion design and includes a select group of fashion
houses in Paris France. The media over recent years has applied the term to high end fashion in general but
this is actually a misnomer as genuine Haute Couture is a legally protected French name and can only
legitimately be used by those who are named on a list complied by a commission, Chambre Syndicale de
Couture, within the French Ministry of Industry.
Presently there are twelve official permanent members on the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture list
they are: Adeline André, Anne Valérie Hash, Chanel, Christian Dior, Franck Sorbier, Givenchy, Jean Paul
Gaultier, Maurizio Galante, Stéphane Rolland, Atelier Gustavolins, Christophe Josse and Giambattista Valli
Additionally there are five members outside of France called correspondent members and they are: Elie Saab,
Giorgio Armani, Valentino, Versace and Azzedine Alaia.
Haute Couture is fabulously expensive and is one of the last bastions of pure unadulterated luxury, each
creation a quintessential masterpiece. Heavenly materials are draped, teased and tucked and tiny hand sewn
stitches apply iridescent pearls and gossamer, specially farmed, feathers. The elite, almost secret society, of
Haute Couture club members feel that these, once in a lifetime designs, are works of art in textile and each
designer a genius. They consider Haute Couture an art form and instead of an extravagance is really a wise
investment. Putting aside the art aspect of an investment in Haute Couture you can actually appreciate
that, for all its expense, it is in point of fact incredible value for money. These beautiful items can last
generations and they are so skillfully designed that they are equally fashionable decades later. The superb
lustrous fabrics maintain their quality and color and, even on close inspection, could have been made last
week or last century. Essentially if you choose a timeless little black Chanel dress or a Dior classic suit in your
twenties they will still have a wow factor when you are retired. Which is pretty amazing.
The wonderfully talented artisan ateliers that breathe life into the designers’ squiggles and swirls take an
average 150 hours to transform the one dimensional sketch into a beautiful and elegant creation fit to
adorn the shoulders of the princesses and queens of Europe and the uncrowned wealthy of the world.
There are some diaphanous dresses with intricate delicate embroidery which can take over 1000 hours to
complete. The lucky ladies who wear these ethereal clothes say that wearing them is like slipping on a silken
extra skin. The fine and delicate fabrics fit so perfectly that the €20,000 to over six figure price for some
dresses is worth every penny.
However in the latter quarter of the twentieth century the Fashion Houses ran head long into a reality
check. The old school devotees of Haute Couture who would never have countenanced a prêt-a-porter item
on their well groomed bodies were being replaced by a new generation which would match a Haute Couture
jacket with a pair of jeans.
The dedicated buyers of Haute Couture has lessoned considerably since the 1940’s and it is considered that
there are only approximately two hundred ladies in the entire world whom consistently by these wonderful
collections. Mostly buyers can only afford one or two items so the demand for these exquisite pieces has
dropped. Subsequently those employed at the ateliers has dwindled from over 46,000 just after the war to
4,500 in 2007.
Chanel is endeavoring to keep Haute Couture alive by purchasing ateliers which throw in the gossamer
towel but it is not just the ateliers which are leaving Haute Couture. Several of the Fashion Houses on the
Chamber’s list decided that it was just too costly to adhere to the inflexible rules as dictated by the French
Ministry. They have left the confines of this select world for the larger lucrative market of the prêt-a-porter
ready to wear lines. It has therefore become more of a labor of love for the remaining members to continue
in the Haute Couture tradition and, in an effort to offset the ever increasing over heads, they sensibly use
the fashion show runway as a platform to promote their more profitable accessories and perfumes.
Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel’s top designer, was inspired at the early age of eleven when he saw a collection by
Dior in his native Hamburg. His focus henceforth centered on design and his career found the fast track
when he won an award for a coat in the same Wool Boards competition as Yves St. Laurent won for a dress.
An avid photographer he often shoots his own press photos. He is known as Kaiser Karl to his staff and the
color of his signature leather fingerless gloves change with his creative flow. Red means serious business. He
has said that the best idea in his life he saw in his sleep just before he woke up. He has devoted admirers of
his collections, continuing the excellence of Coca Chanel, and the absolute necessity of owning that
invaluable little black dress.
Many of the top designers have switched fashion houses several times during they careers and are therefore
comprehensively experienced in the professional expertise and preferences of competing establishments.
John Galliano, the shining star of Dior, previously worked at Givenchy and his creative designs adorn several
of the most beautiful and talented actresses of our age. His fresh and somewhat cavalier approach to
design has escalated him to the upper echelons of Haute Couture’s all time favorites. His parents were from
Spain and Gibraltar but he studied fashion in London and has been dubbed the first British designer to head
a French Couture House. With his roguish good looks and sublime creative intelligence he personifies a
modern day Da Vinci constantly challenging the establishment as he simultaneously shocks and woos the
Valentino. Oh Valentino, classic, ultra feminine and dreamy Couture. Valentino’s designs are visual
rhapsodies. If Galliano is Da Vinci then Valentino is Chopin. A flowing river of chiffon and silk his creations
gently caress and elevate the senses and if Helen and Hera stepped down from Olympus to shop the Rue du
Faubourg Saint-Honorè they would depart Parisian shores laden with Valentino.
Other familiar famous designers and fashion houses that used to be on the Haute Couture list are: Versace,
Guy Laroche, Jean Patou, Nina Ricci, Paco Rabanne, Yves St. Laurent, Marcel Rochas, Lanvin, Loris Azzaro,
Elsa Schiaparelli, Balenciaga, Julien Fournie, Donatella Versace, Elsa Schiaparelli, Emilio Pucci,
Chado Ralph Rucci, Erica Spitulski, Erik Tenorio, Fred Sethal, Hanae Mori, Louis Feraud, Mainbocher,
Marcel Rochas, Pierre Balmain, Pierre Cardin, Torrente, Gai Mattiolo and Anna May
In addition to the permanent members listed above and the 5 correspondent members.
The board voted on, and extended to, an invitation to several additional designers to show in 2012
Iris Van Herpen, Alexis Mabille, Yiqing Yin, Maxime Simoens, Julien Fournie and Bouchra Jarrar.
So what can the future hold for Haute Couture? It's a shrinking industry and you wonder how much longer
the present permanent members can maintain the tradition especially with Lacroix filing bankruptchy and
the death of the wonderful Christian Dior and his amazing protegé, Yves Saint Laurent. It would be an
incredible shame for this historic industry to disappear and one can only hope that realistic endeavors can
save Haute Couture as a living entity and not one to be viewed as a museum dodo sealed forever between
sterile glass enclosures.