The History of Haute Couture Dates Back to Humble Beginnings
Starting in 1858, British couturier Charles Frederick Worth created the first house of haute couture in Paris. The house championed exclusive luxury fashion for wealthy women of the upper class. The term ‘fashion designer’, coined at this time, technically, meant ‘an artist in place of the basic dressmaker’. In 1868, La Chambre Syndicale de La Haute Couture was founded to secure high fashion and its principles. Designers had to earn the right to label themselves owners of fashion houses according to specific regulations. In 1945, regulations were further specified.
In 1908, the term ‘Haute Couture was used for the first time and was formally recognized as a phrase for the fashion industry. By 1921, the French press enforced more safeguards. It established PAIS or L’Association de Protection des Industries Artistiques Saisonnieres. Done in a bid to protect individual high-fashion designers and their designs from plagiarism and piracy, regulations in action saw designs photographed on a mannequin, front, back and side views included. This was registered as proof of a particular designer’s work. In 1945, new regulations, stricter in nature, prevailed. For instance, each atelier had to have at least 20 staff members and designs customized for private clients. In addition, every house of fashion had to present a seasonal fashion collection with at least 35 items of clothing (for each season).
After World War Two
In 1947, France’s austerity during World War II saw a revival. Christian Dior introduced the “New Look” collection. Named ‘Corelle’ after the florets in the midst of a flower, the collection was a marvellous success in glamour with cinched dress waists and full skirts. Hi-fashion had never looked this good, and many wealthy ladies ordered from the collection barely minutes after the showing.
The Advent of Saint Laurent
The billowing skirts of Dior gave way to the rise of haute couture in the enigmatic Yves Saint Laurent designs, who, by 1966, launched his Rive Gauche. This was the first Haute Couture stand-alone boutique. Designers that followed Saint Laurent’s lead were Pierre Cardin, Ted Lapidus and Emanuel Ungaro. In 1970, the number of couture houses dropped from 106 in 1946 to a meagre19. Designers blamed the stringent rules of Le Chambre Syndicale de La Haute Couture. Many designers claimed that recessions following the war forced people to want ready-to-wear rather than high-fashion exclusive clothing. Rules have been revised since, and most great designers hold the ‘Haute Couture’ tag.