The Power of Couture
July 17, 2022
By Jillian Dembs
Couture week just wrapped up, and we’ve seen some astounding collections in Paris. But, what makes this week so much more remarkable than the rest? In this article, we will be discussing all of the important numbers that make up haute couture and explain why it is so different from your usual prêt-à-porter runway looks.
First, let's start with a little history lesson...
Haute couture was born in the mid-1800s and was sparked by an Englishman named Charles Fredrick Worth. It was unusual at the time for men to take on the role of designing and crafting pieces; however, Worth felt he could create something special, so he did. His first piece was extremely intricate, and he used skills that no one had ever seen before. His designs caught the eye of the Ambassador of Paris’s wife, Madame Metternich, who later commissioned him to create a custom couture gown for a ball. Out of the popularity for his craft, he created the first haute couture house in Paris. The House of Worth crafted one-of-a-kind pieces for the elite women of the upper class, sparking the haute couture revolution.
Now, let's get down to the numbers...
During the rise of haute couture, Le Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture was created in 1868. This was a board of members who set the specifications to determine what constituted a “couture house.” The rules required that all pieces be hand-made by seasoned artisans of the highest quality fabrics and exclusively designed and fit for each client. The board also decided that each atelier had to have at least 20 staff members and must present a collection of at least 35 runs with both daytime and eveningwear. Since the established start of haute couture, thousands of collections have been shown to exclusive clientele in Paris twice a year. On average, it takes about 150 hours to create a simple couture dress, 1,000 hours to create a piece involving embroidery and embellishments, and 6,000+ hours to create the most elaborately embroidered and embellished couture gowns. To date, there are only about 2,200 seamstresses worldwide that are qualified to work on couture. The collective is called ‘Les Petits Mans,’ translating to ‘small hands.’
At the very beginning of haute couture, there were 150+ houses that were able to qualify under the strict rules of Le Chambre Syndicale. In 2022, there are only 19 houses legally entitled to use the name ‘haute couture.’ These houses include Christian Dior, Givenchy, Jean Paul Gaultier, Adeline Andre, Maison Margiela, Balenciaga, Balmain, Franck Sorbier, Giambattista Valli, Julien Fournie, Maurizio Galente, Schiaparelli, Alexandre Vauthier, Bouchra Jarrar, Alexis Mabille, Chanel, Maison Rabih Kayrouz, and Stephane Rolland. These houses must have staff at an atelier in Paris and present 50 looks per year to keep the haute couture name.
So, who is able to actually purchase and wear such opulent pieces? There are approximately 4,000 people worldwide who are able to get their hands on haute couture pieces. This clientele ranges from royalty to socialites to celebrities. The bottom line is, you’ve got to be someone to be lucky enough to wear such luxurious designs.
So there you have it. 15,291 hours = all of the time, effort, and history that has been put into haute couture. Prêt-à-porter collections are just as confounding and inspiring, but we believe that the numbers put into haute couture really displays its true value within fashion.