Know Your Fashion History: Haute Couture & Charles Frederick Worth

This is haute couture, and it’s a big deal. Here, your need-to-know guide.

What is haute couture?

The term “haute couture” is French for “high sewing” or “high dressmaking” and refers to the creation of exclusive custom-fitted clothing. A true haute couture garment is made-to-order for an individual client, with a single pattern and usually from start to finish by the same seamstress or team of seamstresses.

The history of haute couture

Haute couture can be traced back to the early 19th century and the rise of Englishman Charles Frederick Worth, considered the father of haute couture. Prior to Worth, most clothing was produced either by anonymous dressmakers working in small shops or large fashion houses that mass-produced garments using standard patterns. Worth changed all that when he began designing custom clothing and personally fitting his clients himself. He quickly became the go-to designer for Europe’s wealthiest women and his designs were much copied.

In 1858, Worth moved his family to Paris (then considered the fashion capital of the world) and opened a salon on the fashionable Rue de la Paix. He is credited with helping to make fashion accessible to regular people by popularizing ready-to-wear garments (a new concept at the time) and using live models to showcase his designs in public exhibitions. He also introduced the concept of branding and was one of the first designers to put his name on his label.

Worth’s success paved the way for other notable 19th century fashion designers such as Paul Poiret, Jeanne Lanvin and Coco Chanel, who would all go on to found their own influential fashion houses. By the early 20th century, there were dozens of established haute couture houses in Paris catering to an ever-growing international clientele of wealthy women who could afford their luxurious designs.

What is required to be a member of today’s Haute Couture Club?
In order to be recognized by France’s Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture as an official haute couture house, a designer must meet certain criteria set forth by the organization including:

– Designing made-to-order garments for private clients, with one or more fittings – Maintaining an atelier in Paris that employs at least 15 fulltime technical artisans – Presenting a collection of at least 35 original designs twice per year during Paris Fashion Week – Selling garments only in their own boutiques or through select high-end retailers – Being financially viable

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