Haute Couture

Written by Joanne Angelis


To some, runways, fashion week and haute couture seem like things from a different world. Frivolous, and without meaning. What on earth could these extravagant, over-the-top, mostly unwearable clothes have to do with what you will buy in a local boutique or department store? The answer: quite a lot.

Marie and Joanne Angelis

Marie and Joanne Angelis

For those in high-end fashion, runway shows are where it all begins. Attendees await with bated breath for these shows to see what the likes of Versace, Gucci and Chanel will unveil for the season. And while it is here that the season’s trends are debuted, for real fashionistas, it isn’t just a show. It is an art gallery where their favourite artists use fabric to make their creative visions come to life, their interpretations of the world around them, their own personal expression of what fashion is.


After all, fashion is nothing if not a means of expressing oneself. And so, we see that what we do when we go shopping is not unlike what these designers do when they create their collections. As we envision ourselves looking a certain way, they envision an entire population of fashionistas looking a certain way. It’s what the individual does, simply on a grander scale.

The fashion-savvy consumer is influenced by the hottest trends as seen in fashion mags and online, all of which are based on collections viewed at fashion week. Arming themselves with this knowledge, they can confidently hit the shops and pick up the season’s must-haves. Not all trends will be well-suited of course, but they can pick and choose which way to express themselves. It could be done with colour, fabric or style. Some will go full out with all three, which admittedly is only a good idea for a select few, while most will get the “it-jacket” here and maybe buy a simple dress in the “it-colour” there.

The same is true for those that do the buying for these boutiques. Twice a year at big trade shows like Coterie in New York, buyers from all over the world go armed with the same knowledge that the consumer eventually has (retail works a year in advance; spring 2019 was bought in spring/summer 2018.) There, they do the same thing for their shops. Buyers will have seen the influence of haute couture in fashion week runway trends, which eventually trickle down to what are called “Ready-to-Wear” collections. These are the pieces that end up in retail boutiques.

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Haute couture, which means “high fashion,” can also be translated to “high sewing” and relates to the extreme attention to detail sewn within each garment.

So, what is haute couture? It’s the mothership of fashion and where a glimpse of the season’s trends first emerge.

Here’s a little history on how haute couture came to be: The term itself, which means “high fashion,” can also be translated to “high sewing” and relates to the extreme attention to detail sewn within each garment. There could literally be half a dozen people who spend three hundred hours on one dress. This is an art form reserved only for truly one-of-a-kind pieces; pieces that could exceed a $100,000 price tag.

The name originated from Fédération Française de la Couture, which is the governing body for the French fashion industry and started as the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in 1868 by Charles Frederick Worth.

Haute couture, dear readers, is a very serious business. Collections are very exclusive, as are the guest lists to any of these shows. Only about 2,000 people worldwide purchase haute couture annually.  Thankfully for the rest of us, there are ready-to-wear or options  — prêt-à-porter as the French call it — that trickle down to boutiques and high-end department stores.

This is a theory that was devised by American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen in 1898. He suggests that traditionally, clothes and styles adapted by the rich in society eventually “trickle down” and influence the rest of the population.

Today, it’s more about lifestyle than wealth, but the essence is the same.

This first and highest level of fashion influences what styles become ready-to-wear and ultimately what arrives in your local boutique.

There is also bespoke tailoring, which lies in between. It may not be as pricey or exclusive as haute couture, but it does maintain the personal touch some buyers relish.

These items are made to individual specifications. Whether it be a custom suit from Saville Row, where the gentleman has handpicked the fabric he wishes and each measurement is taken to fit him precisely, or a pair of John Lobb bespoke shoes. Imagine a shoe made just for your foot? Luxurious! This market certainly has its own air of exclusivity.

Aside from haute couture, designers create their ready-to-wear shows with these influences in mind, but also with their own.

Every creative mind must have its muse or inspiration. Take for example, world-renowned fashion house Escada.

Like many brands such as Versace and Prada, Escada has looked to the past and been inspired by the nostalgic feel of the brand from the 80s. Most of us know that means big shoulders, long double-breasted jackets and bright colours. Of course, the company recognizes today’s client won’t have any desire to re-live those trends, but they won’t mind wearing a modern twist of it.

As we can see, spring 2019 boasts strong jackets and those bold colours, but in a not-so-1985 way! Designers often step into the past for a theme, but not without it evolving into a fresh creation. As the old adage says, “Everything old is new again.”

In the end, fashion has always been something that has enticed, delighted and seduced. For those captivated by its beauty, by the designers’ creative expression or simply by the way it embraces them in a store, it is a feeling like no other.