The history, evolution and modernization of haute couture

In it’s many forms, fashion has long served as a canvas for those who have been champions of the creative arts. The art of haute couture (roughly translated to high fashion that is expensive and one-of-a-kind), in particular, is steeped in history and has been a facet of the fashion industry that has brought to the fore many a creative genius.

The recently concluded Paris Couture Week saw a riveting display of everything from gowns swathed in three dimensional flora to pantsuits rendered in sequins of every colour and prompted us to ask, what exactly is haute couture? How does an industry that has been the conflux of art and métier since over three centuries fare in the world as it exists today?

haute couture
Image Courtesy: Vogue

The fashion industry has been a mainstay of the French economy since the days of the Sun King, Louis XIV who was instrumental in promulgating the laws that banned the imports of foreign textiles that consequently boosted the silk trade from Lyon – the epicentre of silk production in the South of France. He also established institutions such as the dressmakers guild, turning the fashion industry into a prominent source of wealth for the French economy.

In the 1900s, Charles Fredrick Worth (famously credited as the Father of Haute Couture) transformed haute couture into a full-fledged industry in itself. His clientele extended beyond Europe and women flocked to his shop in Paris to get a chance to adorn themselves in his custom-made creations. The term haute couture is protected by French law; only a handful of designers are permitted to use the term and even then have to follow a rigorous set of guidelines to qualify as a haute couture designer.

Image Courtesy: Vogue

The local fashion community of Europe is one that is permeated with talent; from designers to craftsmen and from artists to photographers, the community thrives on skill and inspiration that is drawn from a culture richly steeped in history. While haute couture is a term allocated only to a select few, the craftsmanship and skill used by smaller brands and younger designers is no less than the finest savoir faire.

For a long time, couture houses looked towards East Europe as a reliant source of craftsmanship; the region is packed with legions of artisans who have been behind the exquisite creations seen on the runways in Paris and Milan. However, with the availability of cheaper labour abroad, these designers moved their manufacturing units elsewhere and left a large portion of the craftsmen from the region without work. Amassing this raw talent in their work, younger brands and designers have managed to do the extraordinary – provide employment to this talented set of artists and imbibe their couture techniques in the production of their designs.

haute couture
Image Courtesy: Feeric Fashion Week

Boutique designers and brands from all over Europe are no strangers to these techniques of couture; NOË – a footwear brand from Antwerp that makes exquisite pairs of shoes in over 88 colors! They also custom make a pair on demand, organically inculcating the art of couture within the business. We also love Unsaid Library – a jewelry brand that crafts one of a kind jewelry pieces, inspired from the emotions and thoughts that are often left unexpressed and unspoken, a classic example of a fashion brand that is a seamless amalgamation of personalization and luxury.

Image Courtesy: Unsaid Library
haute couture
Image Courtesy: NOË

While haute couture in itself is a business that has been thriving since the earliest days of the French fashion industry, the artistry and savoir fare of the local fashion community of Europe is no less than modern couture, an industry that will only go onwards and upwards with time.

– Written by Soha Joshi

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