Knowing the answer to the question "What is couture?" will make you a true fashionista. Not just someone who knows style but also someone with a deep understanding of fashion jargon and the differences between clothing. Couture is a term often abused by clothes makers and confused by a lot of fashion-forward individuals. Generally, couture is considered more high-end than ready-to-wear (RTW) clothes since these are made-to-order or made for a client.
What Is Couture - The Essential Details
The French term couture translates to dressmaking, needlework, or sewing that was said to be started by Charles Frederick Worth. In fact, the fashion world considers him as the Father of Couture or Haute Couture. An English fashion designer who moved to Paris, he was known for letting his clients choose the fabric types, colors, and other details they wanted when creating their clothes. His methods of producing clothing made him dominate Parisian fashion in the nineteenth century.
Today, the term is overused not just by designers but boutiques around the world to describe their creations or products. However, the couture process isn’t as simple as many would assume. It’s a very specific manufacturing process that doesn’t have a particular style.
So in terms of "What is couture garment?", it is a handmade or hand-sewn article of clothing. It isn't mass-produced or a clothing item that you can get anytime, anywhere. Meaning you can not find these garments displayed on the rack and ready to be bought and worn by anyone.
What is Couture Process
To give a more detailed answer to the question, "What is couture?", you must have an idea of the process. Definitely, each couturier has different sets of steps to undertake to create a couture garment for their client. That said, the general process would usually involve the following eight steps:
- Consultation and Agreement
- Design Creation
- Pattern Creation
- Initial Fitting
- Garment Creation
- Second Fitting
- Final Creation and Detail Addition
Consultation and Agreement
The first step is for the client (you) and the couturier to meet and discuss the order specifics. You would talk about where and when you need the attire. Is it for a formal, semi-formal, or cocktail event? A wedding, awarding ceremony, debut, or gala? Will you wear it at night, morning, or afternoon?
The couturier will also provide you with options for the skirt lengths, types of sleeves, types of necklines, hemming, embellishments, and more. He or she will also give suggestions to ensure the final garment suits your style and body without compromising your comfort.
During the discussion, the couturier can create a draft for the design you want, including his or her suggestions, to give you an idea of how it would look. Once you agree, they might present you with an estimated cost based on the type of clothing you need and the couturier’s professional fee. They may also give you payment term options and require a downpayment to begin creating your special attire. Lastly, your couturier will provide an estimated time of completion.
What is Couture Measurement
Since the garment is made specifically for you, the couturier will take body measurements, which are more extensive or detailed than standard measurements done in a tailor shop. This way, the couturier is assured that the final product compliments your body and won’t cause any trouble when worn.
What is Couture Design Creation
With the draft and measurements on hand, your couturier will finalize the design and then contact you for approval. If there are changes that need to be made, you should discuss them with the couturier to be applied accordingly. Note that with the modifications, the fee might change a bit. Once you give it a thumbs up, the couturier will start working on your garment.
Your couturier begins creating your garment's pattern based on your specific measurements and the design. He or she then uses that pattern to create a toile or muslin, which is the initial version of your garment using a more affordable fabric, usually cotton or linen.
Once your couturier completes the toile, they would contact you to schedule an initial fitting. During this stage, you’ll wear the toile to see how it would look when worn and make it easy for the couturier to make any necessary adjustments based on your body measurements and taste. You then need to approve the final pattern based on the fitting session.
Then, you would be presented with various fabric types, colors, and patterns so that you can make a final choice. Of course, your couturier will also guide you through the process by providing suggestions. At this stage, they will present the final cost for the services as you’ve already chosen the fabric and other materials.
After the initial fitting session adjustments, your couturier will disassemble the pattern and then utilize it to cut out the actual fabric material for your garment. The next step is the careful assembly of the garment. It would be sewn loosely, though, for easier adjustments in the next step.
Again, your couturier will contact you to fit the partially finished garment. In this stage, the couturier will make any minor, final adjustments.
Final Creation and Detail Addition
Your couturier will now start the completion process, ensuring all adjustments and minor changes have been made. If you ordered a garment with embellishments, such as pearls, crystals, embroidery, and sequins, your couturier would also add all of them. It is also the stage wherein the garment gets dry cleaned or ironed, ready to be worn by you.
Upon completing your ordered garment, your couturier will contact you again to inform you that your garment is ready for pick up. If you prefer delivery at your home address, some couturiers provide this option either free or with an add-on fee.
What is Couture - Timeframes?
So how long does it take to make a couture piece? With the very detailed process of making a couture piece, it would usually take an average of around two to six months to complete one couture piece. This timeline will also depend on the season, garment’s style and details, and more.
What Is Couture - Difference With Haute Couture
The terms couture and haute couture are often confused; some even think they’re exactly the same. In fact, when you ask someone or search for "What is couture?", you’ll usually get answers pertaining to haute couture.
On that note, haute is another French term that means high or elegant, so haute couture translates to elegant sewing. Although couture and haute couture is the process of making garments specifically for a private client, there are certain rules set by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture or Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode to be a certified haute couture house and/or haute couturier. On the contrary, couture clothes are custom-made by professional fashion designers, whether they’re a member of the federation or not.
The Standards to Meet
As noted, although couture and haute couture started in Paris, not all Paris fashion brands and those that have runway shows are considered haute couture. To be an official haute couture member and use it to label your company and products, the standards one must meet are:
- Clients: The company should design custom-made garments with one or more fittings for private clients.
- Employees: The atelier should have at least 15 full-time employees and 20 technical workers.
- Collection Presentation: If you’re a fan of fashion, you’re aware of runway shows. To qualify as an haute couturier, one must present one collection of 35 original evening and morning wear designs. That is every season or the months of January and July.
The Haute Couture Brands
Some of the most popular certified haute couture brands or couturiers are as follows:
- Anne Valérie Hash
- Adeline André
- Alexis Mabille
- Alexandre Vauthier
- Azzedine Alaïa
- Bouchra Jarrar
- Christian Lacroix
- Christian Dior
- Dominique Sirop
- Elie Saab
- Franck Sorbier
- Giorgio Armani
- Giambattista Valli
- Julien Fournié
- Jean Paul Gaultier
- Maison Margiela
- Maison Rabih Kayrouz
- Maurizio Galante
- Michael Cinco
- Stéphane Rolland
- Viktor and Rolf
What is Couture vs. Semi-Couture
With the detailed answer to "What is couture and haute couture?", it's clear that these garments are costly and might even require you to fly to a specific country just to have something that you want. As such, some brands introduced the semi-couture line. It is an affordable and easier-to-access option for those who wish to own garments that are not as common as RTWs but not as elegant as couture and haute couture.
These garments are produced in limited quantities, usually around 16 pieces for each style, and crafted with luxurious materials. Another difference between couture or haute couture and semi-couture is that semi-couture garments aren’t handsewn, rather generally machine-made. They also come with loose seams that your chosen tailor can rip off for easier adjustments to your specific size. Then, he or she would secure them with a stitch.
That said, not every designer and brand agrees with introducing semi-couture items and considers such as simply a marketing strategy to gain more users. Nevertheless, the choice remains with the clients.
What Is Couture - In Conclusion
Couture and haute couture generally refers to the creation of elegant, unique garments for a client. Usually ordered during special occasions, they’re mostly gowns, dresses, and suits. The good thing about them is that they would really look good on you since they’re made for you: your size, shape, and sometimes, personality.
Designers and makers of these clothes aren’t easy to find since they have to meet certain qualifications or standards, making them expensive and inaccessible to the general public. So What is couture and haute couture? Couture and haute couture don’t refer to a specific fashion style. They're used to define the how, where, and who of garment creation.
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