Dolce and Gabbana Alta Moda Haute Couture, 2015.
Editor's note: I love finding and selling true Haute Couture vintage pieces and my team and I put a lot of effort into trying to document the pieces we find as much as possible. As I always state in the descriptions of those piece - Haute Couture is the very pinnacle of the fashion experience and it is both a treat and honour to have pieces in the shop. We have written about Haute Couture here before and when I came across this article in the Telegraph I thought you might like to read it as well - you can never get enough knowledge when you love vintage! .... xxcherie
Haute couture literally translates as 'high sewing' (and thus high fashion). It is the art of dressmaking on a luxurious and grandiose scale. Items are made-to-measure by hand, resulting in pieces of clothing that are both unique and painstakingly perfect.
Haute couture was a necessity for high-class Parisians in the 19th century. The ultimate in power-dressing, women went to couture houses to have bespoke clothing that would set them apart from the rest of the fashion set - leaving it impossible for other ladies to turn up to events in the same outfits. The opulent ring of exclusivity still surrounds haute couture today, with the label being a legal - and highly regarded - term to be used by only a very select number of designers meeting the standard.
What does it take to be a couturier?
Legally, a design house can only identify itself as an haute couture label if it adheres to the strict requirements of the French Ministry of Industry and the Fédération Française de la Couture. First, a designer must create made-to-measure clothing for private clients and offer personal fittings. They must also have a full-time workshop in Paris that employs no fewer than twenty staff. Finally, the fashion house must present two collections a year - in January and July - comprising both daytime and formal evening wear.
Who makes it?
'Les petite mains' (which literally means small hands) refers to the collective 2,200 seamstresses who painstakingly bring haute couture creations to life. Working in the ateliers, this talented, patient breed are often fiercely loyal to a fashion house, spending their whole career solely at one brand.
Anything made-to-measure is going to be pricier than plain old ready-to-wear, but haute couture is a whole other story. With some pieces taking upward of 700 hours to create, and a minimum of twenty people working on it at a time, the price tag will reflect that tenfold. Daywear pieces start at approximately £8,000, with evening and formal wear rocketing far above that. The use of rare fabrics and precious embellishments will hike the price even higher; it's not unheard of for some items to fetch up to the millions.
Who buys it?
The main buyers of Haute Couture today are no longer French socialites, but buyers from Russia, China and the Middle East. Fine clothing items can escalate in value over the years, and are often regarded as collectors' items, making for a clever investment.
Where is it shown?
Collections have historically been showcased in the birthplace of Haute Couture, Paris. However in recent years, the rise of Italian couturiers including Dolce & Gabbana (whose Alta Moda collection, while perhaps the most extravagant of all designers, is not part of the official couture schedule) and Valentino has seen shows occasionally take place in locations such as Capri and Rome. Karl Lagerfeld has noted the impact private planes have had on the couture industry, telling WWD: "Most of the clients don't even see the collection in the salon. The collection goes to the country; it's shown to the women after they make a vague choice on the video. It's a different world from the past.
The key players
Household names Christian Dior, Chanel, Valentino, Elie Saab and Jean-Paul Gaultier all show on the official Haute Couture schedule, while the likes of Viktor & Rolf are considered to be a 'correspondent member'. Hervé Leroux and Zuhair Murad have recently been elected as 'guest members'. Those no longer in the frame include Yves Saint Laurent, who ceased making collections in 2002.
The key components
Only the finest materials by the most skilled artisans will do when it comes to Haute Couture. Thus, houses call upon Lemarié for the finest feathers; Lesage for embroidery; Massaro for shoes; Causse for gloves... and so it goes on. Speciality is the name of the game.
Fashion houses receive very little profit from Haute Couture; in fact, they often lose money. Colossal expenses and a tiny clientele (there are only an estimated 2,000 female customers globally) perhaps explain why, in the past 60 years, the number of couture houses has decreased dramatically. Nonetheless, couture is seen by many as a long-term investment, augmenting brand image and raising the profile of ready-to-wear collections.