Haute couture started in France in the 17th century. Jean-Baptiste Colbert, King Louis XIV’s finance minister, who regulated guilds, had seemingly found the goose that lays the golden egg. During this time, if you were after art, architecture, music, or fashion, it had to be Parisian.
Louis XIV wasn't just called the "Sun King" because it was a nickname he chose for himself, he earnt that title by being a peaceful monarch interested in the arts and the way in which he ran his court.
However, that was a long time ago and while France definitely ruled fashion then, there are a few more questions we still need to ask ourselves about the world of haute couture:
- Is French fashion still popular amongst fashion designers?
- Are Coco Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Dior, and Jean Paul Gaultier still the market leaders?
- Who are the rising talents of Fashion Week?
- And which creators are most fashionable on the runway at the moment?
Let’s have a quick look at who's in vogue!
What is Haute Couture Clothing?
Haute couture is a term referring to professional luxury designers. An haute couture brand will be at the forefront of fashion and will attract the most attention at fashion shows.
As you may have guessed, the term haute couture is French. It became a protected term after the Second World War. If you want to be an haute couture brand, there are certain criteria from the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture Parisienne that need to be met:
- Most of the work has to be done by hand
- Have two workshops: an atelier flou for haute couture dresses and gowns and an atelier tailleurs for jackets and menswear.
- Have at least 20 full-time technical people in one workshop design made-to-order for private clients, with one or more fittings, present a collection of at least fifty original designs to the public every fashion season (twice, in January and July of each year), of both day and evening garments
- Be sponsored by a great designer to become a member
Thus, a fashion house needs to guarantee quality if their creator wants to join the ranks or Dior, Armani, or Louis Vuitton.
They also need to renew their membership each year and are subjected to a vote of authorisation in order to keep their status. After four years, they can become a permanent member.
Here are the current permanent members:
- Adeline André
- Alexandre Vauthier
- Alexis Mabille
- Christian Dior
- Frank Sorbier
- Giambattista Valli
- Jean Paul Gaultier
- Julien Fournié
- Maison Margiela
- Maurizio Galante
- Stéphane Rolland
- Yqing Yin
Haute couture acts as a window for a designer to show off their knowledge and their brand. The main goal is to “sell dreams” to the fashion world and to reach as big an audience as possible through selling handbags, dresses, perfumes (for both men and women), glasses, cosmetics, etc.
Who said that fashion was just for women?
Versace is an haute couture fashion house created by Gianni Versace in 1978. After Gianni’s assassination in 1997, Donatella Versace took control of the family business and became the artistic director alongside her second brother, Santo.
Donatella’s daughter, Allegra Versace, owns 50% of the company and its fortune. You should keep this name in mind if you’re attending any fashion classes.
With its 82 boutiques around the world and its headquarters in Milan, it brings Italian style to the world of haute couture.
"Believe in individuality and the freedom to be whoever you want to be." - Donatella Versace
Donatella Versace is very active on Instagram (she has over 3 million followers) and she promotes the latest trends and pieces from her collections. Lady Gaga is a huge fan of the fashion house and its leader. She even dedicated a song to her on her album Artpop.
The respect seems to be mutual as Donatella Versace had some very nice things to say about Lady Gaga, too:
"Lady Gaga is the present and the future. She is the most revolutionary and inspirational artist. She is fearless and daring." - Donatella Versace
Jean Paul Gaultier
After cutting his teeth at Pierre Cardin in the 1970s, Jean Paul Gaultier launched his first collection. He became a revolutionary creator in the 1980s.
He loves to rewrite the rule book, shock people, and get people talking about his creations for both men and women: he dresses men like women, works with complete strangers, in women’s corsets, etc. Of course, Gaultier isn't the only famous designer to constantly push the envelope!
The marinière became his trademark in 1983 and he was the first to create such a style for men.
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And who could forget the conical bra he designed that was famously worn by Madonna?
“My eccentricity became direction.” - Jean Paul Gaultier
He also worked for Hermès where he made a prêt-à-porter range. Fashion’s enfant terrible has more than one trick up his sleeve and is without a doubt one of France’s biggest fashion icons. Every season, the brand brings its Instagram followers backstage at its haute couture fashion shows.
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The British stylist, who’s worked for Dior for over a decade, is known for being provocative. After several scandals which briefly halted his career, he’s currently the artistic director at Martin Margiela.
“The joy of dressing is an art.” - John Galliano
He designed his first ready-to-wear collection in 1984 but it was too outlandish to be sold to the general public.
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He’s a perfectionist and loves bias techniques. These techniques, which aren’t necessarily ideal for beginners and take several years of study to learn, are what give John Galliano’s dresses their delightful appearance.
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“I prefer bad taste to no taste.” - John Galliano
The stylist is very active on social media and regularly posts Margiela’s collections and photos of fashion shows on his social media. Instagram is a great way to follow the latest collections from Margiela, especially during Fashion Week, where you'll see a celebrity or two on the red carpet.
What would fashion be without Karl Lagerfeld?
We couldn’t write an article on haute couture without mentioning Karl Lagerfeld. He’s been the artistic director of Chanel since 1983, Fendi since 1965, and his own brand since 1983, the German director loves to play with black and white contrasts. This worked wonders for the Coco Chanel brand.
“Fashion is a game that has to be played seriously.” - Karl Lagerfeld
As one of the most famous stylists, he’s helped modernise Chanel by choosing models like Inès de la Fressange and Vanessa Paradis.
He also has made clothes for those attending the ballet at Monte-Carlo, singers like Kylie Minogue and Madonna, and for films like High Heels.
He’s the most influential stylist of the last 25 years and also had a capsule wardrobe for H&M that was sold out in just a few minutes.
"You cannot fake chic but you can be chic and fake fur." - Karl Lagerfeld
Karl Lagerfeld is also a photographer and editor. He likes to get involved with projects outside of the world of fashion. On Instagram, he posts pictures of his projects, his accessories, and pictures of stuff like his Chanel campaigns with Kendall Jenner.
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Stella McCartney has worked on creating collections for Christian Lacroix since she was 15. In 1997, she became the artistic director for Chloé before launching her own label in 2001.
“Everyone can do simple things to make a difference, and every little bit really does count.” - Stella McCartney
Stella McCartney is an environmentalist and an advocate of ethical business practices. She refuses to use fur in her collections and opts for organic cotton and bamboo when making clothing like cosy jumpers and loose trousers.
She’s created refined and sophisticated clothes and capsule collections for H&M, Adidas, Gap Kid, LeSportsac. She launched her range of eco-friendly cosmetics in 2007 and Stella McCartney stores have since sprung up all over the world.
One of Instagram’s most prominent users with nearly 5 million followers, she posts arty pictures as well as selfies with celebrities like Paul McCartney (her father) and Kanye West.
She also often pays homage to her mother, Linda McCartney, who was similarly an animal-rights activist who passed away in 1998 following a battle with breast cancer.
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