Word Wednesday – Haute Couture

Pierre Balmain adjusting a dress on model Ruth Ford in 1947 (photographed by Carl Van Vechten).

Haute Couture (oht koo-toor) A French term French for “high sewing” or “high dressmaking” or “high fashion”) refers to the creation of exclusive custom-fitted clothing. Haute couture is high end fashion that is constructed by hand from start to finish, made from high quality, expensive, often unusual fabric and sewn with extreme attention to detail and finished by the most experienced and capable sewers, often using time-consuming, hand-executed techniques.

Couture translates literally from French as “dressmaking”, but may also refer to fashion, sewing, or needlework and is also used as a common abbreviation of haute couture and refers to the same thing in spirit. Haute translates literally to “high”. A haute couture garment is often made for a client, tailored specifically for the wearer’s measurements and body stance. Considering the amount of time, money, and skill that is allotted to each completed piece, haute couture garments are also described as having no price tag – in other words, budget is not relevant.

When price is no object the haute couture set know their dress is a one-of-a-kind. Designers like Chanel are selected members of the Parisian association Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne which since 1868 has regulated its members in piracy of styles.

Haute Couture is a legally protected and controlled label that can only be used by the fashion houses which have been granted the designation by the French Ministry of Industry. The group of companies that enjoy the Haute Couture label is reviewed annually.

London, Zurich, Madrid, Florence and Rome all have their own couture industries based on the Paris system.