Is It Champagne Or Sparkling? What The Word “Couture” Really Means.

October 18, 2016

Is It Champagne Or Sparkling? What The Word “Couture” Really Means.

Atelier Dior

Girls and champagne go together almost as well as peanut butter and jam! There is something about the magic colour, fizz and the shape of a champagne glass, which makes it such a special experience. Many of you would know that only one provence in France produces the real deal, otherwise you are most certainly drinking “Sparkling Wine”. Well, same applies to all the people and places out there claiming to be “couturiers” with haute prices to match of course.

When I was shopping for my dream wedding dress, I wondered, since when do the craftsmen in remote Australia sell hand-stitched, made-to-order haute couture clothes shown to wealthy clients twice a year in Paris? The term couture has been stretched beyond accuracy for years. “If it’s hanging on a rack and has little sizes in it, then it’s ready-to-wear” not couture, says Valerie Steele, who should know, since she edited the Encyclopaedia of Clothing and Fashion, a couture-priced tome that sells for roughly AU$650.

Much of this is just clever-sounding branding. No fewer than 25 Australian wedding dress stores use the word “couture” and almost none are likely to be confused with Chanel. They include Bizzaro Bridal Couture, Sherry Bridal Couture, Personalised Weddings Couture and many more.

Even Juicy Couture elevated sweatpants to high fashion. “For you it means ‘expensive,’ ” Pamela Golbin, curator of the Louvre museum’s costume collection, once said with a smile.

In reality, the haute couture tradition dates back to 19th-century France. Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture was created to enforce strict rules involving fabrics, numbers of employees, and numbers of designs. Only the best of the best could qualify. By the mid-20th century, more than 100 haute couture houses competed for well-heeled clientele by following the strictest set of rules: sewing by hand, with employees who are French, in ateliers that are French, in France.

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Today, the tradition remains firmly intact. The term “haute couture” is protected under law by the French Ministry of Industry, and only those designated by the Chamber as couturiers can use the term — which translates loosely as “high fashion,”constructed by hand from start to finish.

But the sad truth is that the number of designers who follow all the rules and qualify as authentic couturiers today has steadily fallen. For the Spring 2016 season the official list of members are at 18 including infamous Chanel, Dior and Armani Privé.

We aren’t governed by the French Ministry of Industry on this side of the world, of course, which means everyone claiming to be offering the highest level of designer you can buy legally cannot call it “couture.”

The fact is, the cost of the detailed handwork, pricey materials and repeat fittings in an haute couture gown approaches the cost of a snazzy car: roughly AUD$65,000. A single dress can require 300 hours of work. Participants see themselves at the forefront of new design, but they acknowledge that while their work is prestigious it is largely unprofitable.

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