Haute couture is French for “high fashion”. Haute means high and couture means sewing or dressmaking. It usually consists of extensive needlework, using exclusive fabrics that are custom made to fit the model’s body. Purchasing a haute couture garment is the height customized fashion design. Most pieces are made according to the wearer’s body stance and measurements. Everything is handmade, interlined, and fitted to near perfection for each wearer.
The cost of an haute couture outfit depends on the garment and design house. For example, in 2002 a Chanel outfit may cost a wearer around £20,000, and by 2004 an evening frock would’ve cost £50,000. A simple couture item may start around £10,000. However, items usually go for much higher rates. Obviously, haute couture is not for the average shopper and the cost may seem above and beyond this world. Nevertheless, considering the workmanship, quality of materials, sewing, design, and service that is entailed in making a single piece, the high cost may seem justified. In addition, the wearer receives a piece of clothing that fits perfectly to their body. This can only be achieved via painstaking methods of fitting and cutting. For a simple suit, it may take anywhere from 100 to 150 hours of manual labour, whereas an embellished evening gown may take up to 1000 man hours. The bead work alone requires careful hand stitching and maybe outsourced from an expert beading and embroidery firm such as Lesage, in Paris. Due to the time required to produce just one item, a high fashion house such as Chanel or Dior may only produce up to 20 bridal gowns per year and only have 150 clients on a regular basis.
Couture houses are able to access luxurious and novel fabrics such as fine wools, cottons, suede, furs, skins, leather, linens, silks, and cashmeres. Famous design houses may have a particular cloth colour and design reserved exclusively for them.
Accessories are often made by outside specialists who make them according to inspiration or design. Some examples include belts, buttons, hats, shoes, costume jewellery, and trimmings. These are often made using fine craftsmanship and fine embellishments.
These are sample garments which are initial designs created by designers using muslin cloth or linen. These toiles are manipulated, marked, and fitted on a live model’s body until the designer is satisfied. Once the designer is satisfied with the fitting and representation of the design, he or she will instruct staff to commence work on the actual garment. Usually, one tailor or seamstress will work on the product from beginning to end. The finishing and cutting is done is handled by another team.
Is the price worth it?
It is obvious that haute couture fashion styles are for the affluent. Worldwide, only 3,000 women can afford to purchase them on a regular basis. For “normal” individuals, haute couture fashion is an intangible dream of exclusivity, embellishment, and superior craftsmanship.