Oh couture! The most beautiful event on the global style calendar. A sumptuous serenade of the most talented couturiers.
What is Haute Couture Fashion Week?
Established in 1945, this mandate paved way for the first concept of fashion week, a biannual affair of the top Haute Couture houses hosted in Paris.
Having personally worked at the Haute Couture Fashion Week when I was a fashion student in Paris, I can tell you first hand, that the whole affair was truly a surreal dream come true. For example, when I worked there, we were handling the most exquisite designer dresses that would be worn at Oscars and other extremely high-profile events by the most A-list celebrities you could dream of. Needless to say, it felt like a fairytale. So, with this in mind, I wanted to share with you some fun facts about the annual Haute Couture Fashion Week.
- Haute Couture Qualifications: Haute Couture houses are determined based on a set of rules predicated by the standards of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. According to these rules, a house must present a collection of at least 35 pieces (including both daytime and evening wear) per season. Whilst the majority of design houses are French, a select number of ‘foreign’ members are also selected to join. A grand couturier is a member of the French Chambre syndicale de la haute couture, part of the Fédération française de la couture. Indeed less than 20 designers qualify to show on the official Paris couture week schedule. This said, its governing body, the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture, allows Guest Members and Corresponding Members to show around the same time. This year’s Haute Couture 2021 Members include: Schiaparelli, Christian Dior, Giambattista Valli, Chanel, Alexis Mabille, Stéphane Rolland, Julien Fournié, Alexandre Vauthier, Maison Margiela, Franck Sorbier and Jean Paul Gaultier. The Fashion Week will also show Corresponding Members and Guest Members. Paris’s Haute Couture Fashion Week went digital in July 2020, translating the craftsmanship of couture to a virtual format for the first time. The Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode hosted videos from accredited couture maisons on a dedicated platform.
- Couture Creations are Unique: Each member ‘must’ employ a minimum of 15 people, present their collection twice a year and have outfits which include day and evening wear. All the clothes must be sewn by hand, no sewing machines or beading machines are used what so ever for these collections
- The First Ever Paris Fashion Week: PFW feels like it has been around forever. However it is actually quite a recent concept. The first Paris Fashion Week took place on November 28, 1973 and was supervised by the founder of New York Fashion Week, Eleanor Lambert. This event was was the first time that collections of Haute Couture, prêt-à-porter, and menswear were showcased together in Paris. The event was held as a fundraiser at the Palace of Versailles in an effort of covering the cost of renovating the royal residence, which was estimated at around $60 million. The first Paris Fashion Week commenced a fashion mega-rivalry bookmarked in fashion history. Comprising the most prestigious designers; five American–Anne Klein, Bill Blass, Halston, Oscar de la Renta, and Stephen Burrows; and five French designers–Marc Bohan for Christian Dior, Emanuel Ungaro, Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Cardin, and Yves Saint Laurent, the designer teams were pitted against each other in creating eight pieces to represent French and American fashion. The event garnered over 700 people, including a star-studded guest list featuring Josephine Baker, Elizabeth Taylor, and Liza Minelli. A fierce competition, the transcontinental fair was dubbed “The Battle of Versailles.”
- Opening The Mystical Doors of Couture With Mugler: In 1984, Thierry Mugler became the first fashion designer to give the French public access to an actual fashion show. In celebration of the house’s 10th anniversary, Mugler orchestrated a grandiose runway performance for his Fall/Winter 1984 collection. Held at le Zénith stadium in front of a paying audience of over 6,000 people, the runway show marked the first fashion show open to the public.
- The Clients of Couture: Even though the shows take place in Paris, it’s not actually where the majority of couture clients are based. For example with the iconic Italian designer Versace, their largest client bases are in India, Russia, and Brazil. The couture market itself is estimated by The Financial Times to be globally worth €650million – just 1% of luxury fashion sales in the world. Indeed the average cost for a a couture daywear piece is £8,000. That price rockets through the to the hundreds of thousands for anything close to a gown or any form of couture evening wear. Therefore it is no surprise couture has an extremely niche market of customers. Very unlike the millions of people who buy ready-to-wear clothing worldwide, there are no more than 2000 regular customers that actually buy haute couture pieces. Initially, After World War 2 which is also known as the Golden Age of Fashion, there were approximately 15,000 women who wore couture. Today, the number shank down and is estimated number is down to 2,000 women who wear couture. Indeed couture pieces are often leant out to actresses and public figures to gain publicity.