Monday, 1 April 2013

Read Paris Haute Couture

Fashion today is open to whoever wants to follow it, trends are becoming more and more merely open guidelines. Bill Cunningham speaks about the "globalisation of fashion" in one of his latest On the Street videos, with people adapting fashion to their own culture and sexuality, going beyond the "antiquated idea of good or bad taste". 

Christian Dior and Giambattista Valli
Christian Dior and Giambattista Valli latest couture shows
(Photos edited from

This freedom to edit our own style should be celebrated and encouraged but if we love fashion it's important to develop our knowledge about it and learn from its ultimate heritage: haute couture. Anne Zazzo and Olivier Sillard have written a reference book spanning from the beginning of this exquisite craft in 1858.

Balenciaga, 1967
Balenciaga, evening ensemble, August 1967. Gazar d’Abraham fabric, polyamide tulle, appliqués of taffeta flowers made from crinkled silk and ostrich feathers. © Katerina Jebb

Paris Haute Couture, recently published in the UK by Flammarion, takes us on a journey throughout the evolution of dressmaking, from Charles Frederick Worth and Balenciaga to Yves Saint Laurent and Viktor & Rolf. This comprehensive history examines not only the role of the designer but also the relationship between haute couture and the client.

Carven, 1945
Carven, Extase evening gown, 1945. Top in cellulose acetate rayon knit, skirt in pekin fabric and cellulose acetate rayon. © Katerina Jebb

In Paris couture houses have always attracted worldwide attention for elegance and glamour. They were disrupted by the wartime occupation of Paris when private clients dispersed. The Germans planned to move couture to Berlin but Lucien Lelong, president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, objected saying 'It is in Paris or it is nowhere.' 

Fath, 1951
Fath, evening gown, winter 1951. Cellulose acetate rayon satin. © Katerina Jebb

This is still true today, the production of couture is important to the prestige of France and Paris continues to be its centre stage. Some couture houses lasted for generations others only as long as their founders were alive. While traditionally catering for wealthy private clients, they also sought new markets by creating perfumes and opening boutiques. 

Book cover

By the late 1950s, the leading couture houses have become global brands. Couture will always be special, it's not about selling clothes but executing orders and as Hardy Amies pointed out "the whole process should be a harmonious co-operation between designer, tailor and customer." 

Elie Saab and Valentino
Elie Saab and Valentino latest couture shows
(Photos edited from

The artistry and craftsmanship of a couture dress requires time, it's the opposite of the prevalent attitude of "I want it now". This focus on timeless and incredibly beautiful pieces adapted to a particular person is what makes couture unique and its precious legacy survives in the remaining grand houses of Paris. 

Other related blog posts:
Visit Dior at Harrods
Couture Fit for Stars
My Fashion Dream