(and why do people keep pronouncing it wrong LOL)

Before we begin, let’s get the name straight, its HAUTE COUTURE – pronounced “OAT COUTURE”, the H is silent…………… (Dropping Jewels)

You hear a lot of designers (mostly independent) speaking about Couture Garments, Couture Fashion Shows, Couture, Couture, Couture, but what is HAUTE COUTURE really?  Let’s find out


CREDITS: Wikipedia,  https://www.encyclopedia.com, Sofia Davis

Haute couture (oʊt kuːˈtjʊər/; French pronunciation: [otkutyʁ]; French for “high sewing” or “high dressmaking” or”high fashion”) is the creation of exclusive custom-fitted clothing.  Haute couture is high-end fashion that is constructed by hand from start to finish, made from high-quality, expensive,often unusual fabric and sewn with extreme attention to detail and finished bythe most experienced and capable sewers – often using time-consuming, hand-executed techniques.  Couture translates literally from French as “dressmaking” but may also refer to fashion, sewing,or needlework and is also used as a common abbreviation of haute couture and refers to the same thing in spirit.  Haute translates literally to “high”.  A haute couture garment is always made for an individual client, tailored specifically for the wearer’s measurements and body stance.  Considering the amount of time,money, and skill allotted to each completed piece, haute couture garments are also described as having no price tag: budget is not relevant.


The term originally referred to Englishman Charles Frederick Worth’s  work, produced in Paris in the mid-nineteenth century.  The Dapifer notes that Worth would allow his clients to select colors, fabrics and other details before ever beginning his design process which was unheard of at the time.  In modern France,  haute couture is a protected name that may not be used except by firms that meet certain well-defined standards. However, the term is also used loosely to describe all high-fashion custom-fitted clothing whether it is produced in Paris or in other fashion capitals such as London, Milan, New York City or Tokyo. In either case, the term can refer to the fashion houses or fashion designers that create exclusive and often trend-setting fashions or to the fashions created.

In France, the term haute couture is protected by law and is defined by the Chambre de commerce et d’industrie de Paris based in Paris.  The chambre syndicale de la haute couture is defined as “the regulating commission that determines which fashion houses are eligible to be true haute couture houses”. Their rules state that only”those companies mentioned on the list drawn up each year by a commission domiciled at the Ministry for Industry are entitled to avail themselves”of the label haute couture.  The Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne is an association of Parisian couturiers founded in 1868 as an outgrowth of medieval guilds that regulate its members in regard to counterfeiting of styles, dates of openings for collections, number of models presented, relations with press, questions of law and taxes, and promotional activities.  Formation of the organization was brought about by Charles Frederick Worth.  An affiliated school was organized in 1930 called L’Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture. The school helps bring new designers to help the “couture” houses that are still present today. Since 1975, this organization has worked within the Federation Francaise, de couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Createurs deMode.

More rigorous criteria for haute couture were established in 1945.  To earn the right to call itself a couture house and to use the term haute couture in its advertising and any other way, members of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture must follow specific rules:

  • Design made-to-order for private clients, with one or more fittings;
  • Have a workshop (atelier) in Paris that employs at least fifteen staff members full-time;
  • Have at least twenty full-time technical people,in at least one workshop (atelier); and
  • Present a collection of at least fifty original designs to the public every fashion season (twice, in January and July of each year), of both day and evening garments.


Haute couture can be referenced back as early as the 17th Century.  Rose Bertin, the French fashion designer to Queen Marie Antoinette, can be credited for bringing fashion and haute couture to French culture.  Visitors to Paris brought back clothing that was then copied by local dressmakers.  Stylish women also ordered dresses in the latest Parisian fashion to serve as models.

As railroads and steamships made European travel easier,it was increasingly common for wealthy women to travel to Paris to shop for clothing and accessories. French fitters and dressmakers were commonly thought to be the best in Europe, and real Parisian garments were considered better than local imitations.[citation needed]

A couturier (French: [ku.ty.ʁje]) is an establishment or person involved in the clothing fashion industry who makes original garments too rder for private clients. A couturier may make what is known as haute couture. Such a person usually hires patternmakers and machinists for garment production, and is either employed by exclusive boutiques or is self-employed.

The Father of Haute Couture – Charles Frederick Worth

The couturier Charles Frederick Worth (October 13, 1825 –March 10, 1895) is widely considered the father of haute couture as it is known today.  Although born in Bourne,Lincolnshire, England, Worth made his mark in the French fashion industry.  Revolutionizing how dressmaking had been previously perceived, Worth made it so the dressmaker became the artist of garnishment: a fashion designer.  While he created one-of-a-kind designs to please some of his titled or wealthy customers, he is best known for preparing a portfolio of designs that were shown on live models at the House of Worth.  Clients selected one model, specified color and fabrics, and had a duplicate garment tailor-made in Worth’s workshop.  Worth combined individual tailoring with a standardization more characteristic of the ready-to-wear clothing industry,which was also developing during this period.

Following in Worth’s footsteps were Callot Soeurs, Patou,Poiret, Vionnet, Fortuny, Lanvin, Chanel, Mainbocher, Schiaparelli, Balenciaga,and Dior.  Some of these fashion houses still exist today, under the leadership of modern designers.

In the 1960s, a group of young designers who had trained under men like Dior and Balenciaga left these established couture houses and opened their own establishments. The most successful of these young designers were Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, André Courrèges, Ted Lapidus, and Emanuel Ungaro. Japanese native and Paris-based Hanae Mori was also successful in establishing her own line.

Lacroix is one of the fashion houses to have been started in the late 20th century. Other new houses have included Jean-Paul Gaultier and Thierry Mugler.  Due to the high expenses of producing haute couture collections, Lacroix and Mugler have since ceased their haute couture activities.

Modernized haute couture shows are not designed and made to be sold, rather they are exactly what they are displayed for – for show.Instead of being constructed for the purpose of selling and making money, they are made to further the publicity, as well as perception and understanding of brand image.

For all these fashion houses, custom clothing is no longer the main source of income, often costing much more than it earns through direct sales; it only adds the aura of fashion to their ventures in ready-to-wear clothing and related luxury products such as shoes and perfumes, and licensing ventures that earn greater returns for the company. Excessive commercialization and profit-making can be damaging, however.  Cardin, for example, licensed with abandon in the 1980s and his name lost most of its fashionable cachet when anyone could buy Cardin luggage at a discount store.  It is their ready-to-wear collections that are available to a wider audience, adding a splash of glamour and the feel of haute couture to more wardrobes.  Fashion houses still create custom clothing for publicity, for example providing items to the television shows.

The 1960s also featured a revolt against established fashion standards by mods, rockers, and hippies, as well as an increasing internationalization of the fashion scene. Jet travel had spawned a jet set that partied—and shopped—just as happily in New York as in Paris.  Rich women no longer felt that a Paris dress was necessarily better than one sewn elsewhere.  While Paris is still pre-eminent in the fashion world, it is no longer the sole arbiter of fashion.

Members of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture

Official members

Adeline André—Alexandre Vauthier—Alexis Mabille—Chanel—Christian Dior—Franck Sorbier—Giambattista Valli—Givenchy—Jean Paul Gaultier—Julien Fournié—Maison Margiela—Schiaparelli—Stéphane Rollan

NOTES:  The First Couturier. Worth was not the first man to be an acclaimed creator of fashion. LeRoy had been held in similar esteem as a milliner and dressmaker to the Empress Josephine. Worth was, however, the first clothing designer to be called a couturier.

Credits:  https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/literature-and-arts/fashion-biographies/charles-frederick-worth

Charles Frederick Worth Background:

Credited with developing the bustle, Charles Frederick Worth (1825-1895) rose from humble beginnings to create the first fashion empire. He dictated his style preferences to the crowned heads of Europe during the mid-nineteenth century.

Charles Frederick Worth was the founder of Paris haute couture —high fashion. A talented designer with a savvy head for business, his fashion empire spanned the nineteenth century, growing amid the increasing opulence, wealth, and luxury of France’s Second Empire, the reign of Britain’s Queen Victoria, and America’s Gilded Age. Raised in the Age of Reason, he used the technology of the industrial era to transform the decoration of women from a cottage-based craft into a major industry.

Worth was born October 13, 1825, in Bourne, Lincolnshire,England. While he was descended from several generations of attorneys and was raised to assume a life of affluence, his comfortable lifestyle was disrupted by his father’s alcoholism when Worth was eleven. Losing everything, his mother, Mary Worth, was forced to clean houses to support her family, while Charles was also forced to go to work. Apprenticed to a printer but finding the work not to his taste, Worth left after one year and in 1838 went to work as a bookkeeper for the London yard goods firm of Swan and Edgar. Like many such firms, Swan and Edgar supplied ladies with fabric yardage that would be taken to a dressmaker to create one-of-a-kind gowns and other garments. Worth later moved to Lewis and Allen by, London silk merchants, where he stayed until 1845.At Lewis and Allen by Worth learned about textiles. He also observed the social intricacies of fashionable society, and vowed to be a part of it someday.During his time off from work, the young apprentice visited art galleries,where his study of the clothing of past eras would influence his later designs.

After moving to Paris in 1845, Worth found work with a fabric and dress accessories shop, Maison Gagelin. In his shop M. Gagelin employed young women to model shawls, cloaks, and other accessories for hisclients. Worth fell in love with one of these models, Marie Vernet, and the two were eventually married. They would go on to have two sons, Gaston and Jean-Philippe.

Desiring that his wife look her best, Worth designed and constructed several simple yet elegant gowns for Marie to wear while modeling Gagelin’s wares. Soon customers were asking Worth to make gowns for them as well. He proposed a scheme whereby he would design and construct several dresses from Gagelin silks that could be sold alongside the shop’s dress goods, but Gagelin was skeptical, as purchasing ready-made garments was unheard of inthe mid-nineteenth century. However, Worth’s talent as a dressmaker anddesigner was soon the talk of Paris, and fashionable ladies flocked to view his latest creations. Denied a partnership by Gagelin, Worth eventually broke out on his own and started his own ladies’ dress shop, Worth and Bobergh, in 1858.His financial partner was Otto Bobergh and the two men located their shop in Paris on the rue de la Paix.

Wedding Dress of Alice Wade Everett by Charles Frederick Worth (1879)
Credits:  https://www.gossamerie.com/blogs/embroidery/tagged/charles-frederick-worth

Age of Conspicuous Consumption

The economic advances of the Second Empire (1852-1870),ruled over by Napoleon III and his wife, the Empress Eugenie, provided many in the French upper class the economic means to afford the luxury goods Worth produced. In the United States, as well, the mid-1800s saw the growth of industrial empires whose creators demanded luxurious, ostentatious surroundings. Mimicking the royal families of Europe, these “nouveauriche” worshiped all things European. Architecture of the period reflected this trend, and by the 1880s lavish Italianate “cottage” studded the residential neighborhoods of posh Newport, Rhode Island, their polished marble walls lined with gilt-framed works by the Old Masters.

While the male members of this new upper class attended to business, their wives and daughters spent their time calling on friends,attending parties, and planning shopping trips to Paris. In addition to embodying the era’s conspicuous consumption, the less a woman appeared to be capable of performing any useful task, the more positively it reflected upon her husband’s social standing. Restricted by a tightly laced, constricting corset that made breathing difficult since the age of eight, the average young lady of fashion was burdened as well by several layers of petticoats; a hairstyle that required painstaking attention; a crinoline constructed of watch-spring wire that prevented her from either sitting comfortably on a chair or passing through a narrow doorway; a tightly fitted bodice the sleeves of which often prevented her from raising her arms; and the necessity of changing her garments several times a day as required by the meal to be served, the company to been tertained, or the function to be attended.

Even more than today, the clothes a woman wore were crucial in retaining and even elevating her position in society. Every activity required a particular mode of dress, from the reception gown for greeting guests at home, to visiting dresses, to dinner dresses, lavish evening gowns,and fanciful gowns specially designed for costume balls. And there was also fashion’s cardinal rule—never wear the same dress twice—which meant that the average woman of the upper classes donned a minimum of two new dresses each day.

Breaking the monotony of social outings and needlework for wealthy women was the arrival, each fashion season, of a new trunk full of clothes from Paris. Appearing in a gown made in Paris guaranteed that one would appear distinguished, and Paris fashions were commonly seen gracing everything from debutante balls to weddings. In addition to their stylish designs,ordering garments was simplified in France, and high-quality fabrics and trims,a good fit, good construction were available for far less than they were in New York City.

Courts Favor with European Royalty

Even before opening his shop, or atelier, Worth knew he needed to attract the patronage of women in court circles in order to become a success. He decided to earn the goodwill of the fashion-conscious Princess Pauline von Metternich, who was married to the Austrian ambassador to France.Gaining the princess as a client would allow Worth to gain the patronage of the equally fashionable Empress Eugenie. His plan proved successful, and by 1864 Worth had become couturier to the French court.

Among Paris dressmakers, Worth soon reigned supreme. The street in front of 7 rue de la Paix was lined with carriages from morning tonight, and the shop itself buzzed with the gossip of fashionable women from around the world. Worth could often be found at the center of a rapt audience of these women, garbed as they were in colorful, rustling silks. He would often call certain women forward to critique their ensemble, finding favor or criticizing as was his whim. The Empress Eugenie joined her court in frequenting his shop,and other royal clients included Queen Victoria and the Empress Elizabeth, for whom he designed a dress for her coronation as Queen of Hungary. Among the American women who patronized his shop in later years were the Astors, Carnegies, Rockefellers, and Vanderbilts, who all made frequent appearances.While many of Worth’s clients would spend upwards of $10,000 a year on their wardrobes, still others were willing to spend that same sum on a single ballgown.

From Designer to Innovator

In producing the 6,000 to 7,000 gowns and 4,000 outer garments he designed and sold each year, Worth used the most beautiful fabric she could find. In an effort to support the textile industry in his own country,he often looked to French weavers. The famed silk mills of Lyon frequently submitted samples of their new patterns for Worth’s approval, and his fabric orders would sometimes determine a weaver’s production output for an entire year.Worth’s attention to quality and detail was painstaking; the inside of his garments was often finished equally as well as the outside.

While much of Worth’s success was due to the fact that he used the best fabrics and employed the best dressmakers in Paris, he also made use of his artistic genius. He is credited with popularizing the cage crinoline—a bell-shaped framework formed from a series of horizontal hoops and suspended with tapes from the waist to support the weight of over skirts—as well as for its demise in favor of a half-crinoline that pushed the skirt’s fullness to the back. The half-crinoline eventually became the bustle, a fixture in women’s dress during the 1870s and 1880s.

Crinolined ball gowns were among Worth’s most popular creations. He is also credited with creating the first walking skirt by trimming enough length from the hem of a dress to allow the skirt to clear the ground and not drag in the mud. He favored jaunty hats over the bonnets that had been in favor for years, and designed several hats in his shop.

Some of Worth’s innovations were technical in nature. He sped up the patternmaking process by creating a system of standardized,interchangeable components—from sleeves to collars to bodices—so that a single pattern piece could be used in numerous garments. He also used the newly invented sewing machine as much as possible, relying on hand sewing for only delicate finish work. Rather than shunning modernization, he willingly used the laces, ribbons, and other trims produced by machine instead of by hand and readily available in quantity.

Worth was also the first designer to organize and show an entire collection of clothes in advance. The first man to become prominent in the field of women’s fashion, he was also the first to use young women as models for entire outfits. In addition to his private customers, Worth’s clientele included American seamstresses who purchased garments to copy for ladies longing for the Worth look but unable to travel to Paris. In this way,Worth pioneered the technique of designing dresses for the purpose of being copied in French workrooms and then distributed throughout the world.

Edwige Elizabeth Charlotte Holstein-Gottorp (1774) 

Credit:  https://www.gossamerie.com/blogs/embroidery/tagged/charles-frederick-worth

Practical as well as fanatical, Worth realized that women have as great a need for housecoats, maternity dresses, and mourning clothes as they had for fancy evening dresses, and he designed fashionable clothing for even these mundane uses. He also was sensitive to the likes and dislikes of his clients, creating designs based upon the individual woman rather than the prevailing trend. His clients included leading members of the Comedie Francais, whom Worth costumed based on the works of Titian, Rembrandt, and other artists.

Business Outlives French Empire

In 1870 the Second French Empire fell, forcing Empress Eugenie into exile in England. During France’s attack by allied European forces, Maison Worth was transformed into a hospital for injured French soldiers. In January of 1871 France surrendered to the Prussian army, but during the civil unrest that followed many French symbols of the aristocracy were destroyed.

After the French government had been restored, the doors to luxurious Parisian shops bearing such names as Worth and Cartier once again opened their doors. As most of the ladies of the French court had long sincede parted, clients of Maison Worth now numbered chiefly British, American,Swedish, Italian, and Russian. Fortunately for Worth, the spending habits of these foreign women caused a boom in business. His prices became even more exorbitant, and his income of $80,000 a year was an enormous sum by nineteenth-century standards. Business flourished and by 1871 Worth had 1,200 people in his employ.

Talent Surpassed Only by Ego

Worth’s sense of style and his head for business were enhanced by an unusually large ego. Probably the first dressmaker to sign his name to his work by using a label sewn into the garment, he nurtured the mystique that made him a legend to his fans, adopting autocratic mannerisms. He also affected a Bohemian style in his own wardrobe, often appearing in a blackskull cap. Caricatures of Worth appear in many novels of the period, including works by Emile Zola, Henry James, and Edith Wharton.

In keeping with his desire for social status, Worth devised his own coat of arms, which he had worked into the iron gates of his home in Suresnes. The design featured a stylized cornflower of blue and as nail.

Worth’s combination of genius and arrogance captured the imagination of his female clients, and he soon had absolute control over the world of Paris fashion. While his genius was lauded during his lifetime, some critics commented on his high prices—often higher still for Americans—and his dictatorial nature. In part as a reaction to his ornate fashions, advocates of a reformed “aesthetic” dress began to call for the abolition of the corset, crinoline, and other unnatural paddings. Instead they advocated the wearing of undecorated dresses sewn from modest fabrics and designed to drape loosely from the shoulders to the floor.

The Death of Worth

While his works continued to be featured in Harper’s Bazaar, by the 1890s Worth had lost his monopoly on French fashion. Designers such as Paquin, Doucet, and Felix soon began to find favor with the wealthy set. Upon his death in Paris on March 10, 1895, Worth’s shop was turned over to his sons. Jean-Philippe, in addition to being raised in atelier Worth, had studied painting, while Gaston, Worth’s older son, competently handled the businesses finances.

The two brothers proved successful in continuing their father’s success, albeit on a less intensive scale. Creating elegant gowns in the tradition of his father, Jean-Philippe was also responsible for costuming some of the era’s most notable actresses, who still relied on private dressmakers rather than theatrical designers for the clothing they donned onstage.

At the turn of the century the reputation of Maison Worth declined in favor of such young, innovative designers as Paul Poiret, who discarded corsets in favor of the straight, waistless styles that would come to characterize women’s fashions during the 1920s. Following World War II,Jean-Philippe confined himself to making gowns for state occasions attended by the few remaining members of the European nobility. He and his brother were patronized by an increasingly older clientele until, in 1956, the House of Worth closed its doors. Today Worth’s gowns can be viewed at museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Costume Institute.

And that, my Darlings is Haute Couture……

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