With Fashion Week shows cancelled and the world on hold because of COVID-19, many questions have arisen regarding the frantic pace of fashion and the future of haute couture. The fashion industry is asking itself how to proceed from now on, while many ask whether couture is still relevant in a time of social and economic problems.
What is Haute Couture?
The historic art of haute couture dates back from 17th-century France. Ironically, it was a Brit who opened the first haute couture house in Paris in 1856, Charles Frederick Worth. The term refers to designers who create made-to-order luxury clothes and follow certain rules dictated by the Chamber Syndicale de la Haute Couture. Founded in Paris in 1868, the association states that couturiers must have, for example, full-time ateliers in Paris to create bespoke clothes that require one or more fittings. The select group includes, among others, Dior, Chanel, Givenchy, Schiaparelli, Valentino and Versace.
See who are the eight exceptional Haute Couture ateliers in Paris:
The 130-year-old Maison Lesage was bought by Canel in 2020. A famous embroidery atelier with highly-skilled artisans who hand-embroider sequins, beads, rhinestones, shells, ribbons and feathers for Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and Louis Vuitton.
Founded in 1939, the embroidery studio designs contemporary and exclusive motifs for Chanel. The atelier uses crochet hook and needle, as well as its famous century-old Cornely embroidery machines.
The heritage atelier, with only five craftspeople, is one of the only pleat-makers in Paris. The atelier makes, for example, Hermès’ famous pleated-silk foulards.
The last remaining feather workshop in France, Lemarié was purchased by Chanel in 1996. It began in 1880, as a purveyor of “plumes-for-garments” to department stores. Since 1946, the atelier has worked with couture houses as Christian Dior, Balenciaga, Givenchy and Nina Ricci.
Gabrielle Chanel’s original jeweller still makes pieces for Chanel, as the stunning scarab beetle buttons, cuffs and bold belt buckles for the 2018/2019 Métiers d’Art collections.
Founded in 1929 by Georges Desrues, the atelier produced costume jewellery and special buttons for fashion designers like Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior. In 1984, its main client, Chanel, bought Desrues, to continue producing stunning pieces inspired in Coco Chanel.
The historic French millinery atelier has been making hats since 1936. Maison Michel is known for using new materials and making modern hats embellished with feathers, beads and lace. Besides working with haute couture, the millinery house also has ready-to-wear hats and hat accessories.
Massaro was founded in 1894 and has made shoes for three generations. Duchess of Windsor, Marlene Dietrich, and Barbara Hutton are some of Massaro’s clients. The shoemaker is famous for its iconic Grès Pumps and the Chanel sandals from 1958.
Haute Couture in numbers
Extremely skilled artisans painstakingly work on the one-of-a-kind gowns we see at royal weddings and red carpet events. Sewers, seamstresses, embroiderers, drapers and all the other Petites Mains take from 100 to 1.000 hours to sew by hand embroideries, beadings, buttons and other details. But the final look In Ralph & Russo 2016 show, for instance, took 6.000 hours. Usually, it is necessary three to ten fittings before the luxurious garments that cost between $50.000 to $300.000, are ready. Although, if you’d like to get married in a Dior wedding dress, be prepared to spend up to $1.000.000.
Is Haute Couture in danger?
While some think couture is a dying industry, the heritage art of craftsmanship continues to be appreciated and the millennial clientele has grown in the past years. In fact, we see haute couture creations going viral on Instagram. But these younger clients want to mix & match couture pieces with casual ones, for high-low looks. This is why houses like Chanel and Givenchy have included in their latest haute couture collections, blazers, blouses and pants instead of only evening gowns. Although it will always focus on uniqueness and craftsmanship know-how, couture is also emphasizing on technology, sustainability and collaborations with artists. So, we see a shift in haute couture, but the wonderful ateliers creating bespoke garments have a future, even today.
The future of Fashion Week
Fashion labels are re-thinking the fast pace of the many collections and the extravagant fashion shows. Chanel’s Bruno Pavlovsky stated the coronavirus crisis had accelerated a transformation that was already well underway. Even so, Chanel doesn’t want to change the six shows per year and its Cruise extravaganzas that Karl Lagerfeld began, which are “a very privileged relationship between the brand and the people around the brand“.
Haute Couture in Coronavirus times
The skilled artisans who work in several ateliers are sewing voluntarily masks and hospital gowns instead of the breath-taking gowns for the Métiers d’Art and Resort collections. What a wonderful gesture of solidarity coming from the Petites Mains.
Title photo by beyrouth – Isabella Melo, backstage Zuhair Murad Haute Couture – Via Wikimedia.