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The Meaning of Couture

The word 'haute means high, 'Couture' refers to designers and dressmaking that is made to order to the highest standard. Together 'Haute Couture' is high fashion - a blend of the finest materials and the most precise and intricate craftmanship. Price is not an object as these pieces are seen as fashion art from the most skilled individuals, using time consuming hand - executed techniques.

In 1858 English couturier, Charles Frederick Worth established the first haute couture house in Paris, championing exclusive luxury fashion for the upper class woman and coining the term 'fashion designer' - an artist in lieu of the basic dressmaker.

Worth would allow his clients to select colours, fabrics and other details before even beginning his design process, which was unheard of at the time.

Nowadays a couture dressmaker will carry out this same process allowing the client to choose exactly what they want down to the very last detail - making the finished garment completely bespoke and individual.

Couture sewing essentially refers to anything that has been designed and sewn to an individuals specifications and measurements. The attention to detail is almost overwhelming and this is always reflected in the price.

One of the main differences when you are having a truly couture dress made is the toile fitting. A couture dressmaker will create a test garment to fine tune the fit before committing the scissors to the real fabric - this is known as a toile. It is the dressmakers equivalent of a working document. Each pattern piece is cut out in calico to make a mock up of the dress, once made this will be drawn on, cut, nipped and draped on the clients body before transferring onto the actual fabric.

There is nothing like a hand worked button hole to distinguish a garment as couture. It takes hours and hours of practice to get the stitches and tension just right. Couture garments may also have bound button holes - equally as tricky and time consuming to get just right but providing a totally professional finish.

To go with your couture button holes you will need a fabric covered button - the pinacle of a quality finish.

Couture dresmakers will cover their buttons in the fabric which the garment is made from to ensure an absolutely perfect match.

Each button is covered individually before being handstitched one by one on to the garment.

Here they are being applied as a 'cover up' to hide the zip line.

In high street fashion seam finishes are usually done by machine, however in couture sewing the seams may be finished by hand or bound with a bias binding.

Hand sewing is the key element of couture, from invisible hems and lace details to zips and fastenings, all of this type of work is done by hand in the couture world.

Giving the dressmaker absolute control over the fabric which you cannot get with a sewing machine.

All one of a kind garments are structured from the inside out, meaning it has to start with a solid foundation. Interfacings in couture garments are always made from natural fibres and are not fusible, so they need to be hand tacked in place before the garment is put together.

This allows the fabric to move and hang more freely and naturally.

As with the outside fabric, the linings in these couture garments will also be of the finest quality, far superior to that you would find in high street stores. It is believed that the piece should look as good on the inside as it does on the outside.

Although some of these couture sewing techniques have long become redundant in modern day clothing production you will still find many independent bespoke dressmakers, tailors and seamstresses that will use many of these techniques when making bespoke garments today.

Some of the big names in the fashion industry that are still classed as being 'haute couture' include Chanel, Christian Dior, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Givenchy.


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