PARIS, France — Haute couture, completely bespoke, handmade garments created with the highest-quality fabrics, sits at the pinnacle of luxury fashion craftsmanship and exclusivity. In fact, the very term ‘haute couture’ is protected by law in France. And rules dictated by the Parisian Chamber of Commerce and Industry require members of the haute couture club to adhere to very strict guidelines pertaining to their runway shows, ateliers and artisans, to name but a few.
These artisans take hundreds of hours to construct each couture piece; an exquisitely embroidered and feathered gown from Chanel’s latest couture collection took a team of 200 around 2,000 total hours to make. The atelier staff, known as “petites mains,” are highly skilled. They painstakingly pleat, drape and transform delicate fabrics into astonishingly detailed eveningwear and daywear.
Indeed, couture ateliers require staff with a very high degree of advanced technical know-how. To preserve these skills, Chanel subsidiary Paraffection has been buying up and funding a number of artisan ateliers, most recently the French glovemaker Causse and Scottish cashmere producer Barrie Knitwear. Other ateliers under the Chanel umbrella include embroiderer Lesage, feather specialists Lemarié and button maker Desrues.
Only a few hundred women in the world can actually afford to purchase haute couture pieces and the business is not particularly profitable for fashion brands. The media coverage and buzz surrounding the shows plays an essential role in the cultivation and communication of brand image, however. And despite the limited nature of the clientele, many houses, though tight-lipped on financial details, say the market for couture has been growing.
Lacroix’s forthcoming haute couture capsule collection for Schiaparelli is the latest in a series of movements that indicate the continued importance of couture. Demand from emerging markets, as well, is driving growth in the sector. In March, Dior presented an encore of its Spring 2013 Haute Couture show in Shanghai, its second such foray into China, which chief executive Sidney Toledano called the “big market of tomorrow” for new couture clients. Chanel now visits the country twice a year to fulfill demand; its president of fashion, Bruno Pavlovsky, has indicated that other areas of growth include Eastern Europe and South America.
Haute Couture is yet another example of how fashion means business. Show your support and vote for BoF in the Webby Awards — we need your help and there are only a few days remaining to vote!