Fashion Lifestyle

Haute Couture Is Handmade Wearable Art

Haute couture is the peak of fashion; detail and quality is what differentiates haute couture from ready-to-wear.

Photo: Chanel

Fancy a ball gown embellished with gold threads and white opals? A dress that fits you like a glove and is made in Paree? Make an appointment at a haute couture atelier now, and your lofty sartorial dreams can become materially real; albeit, for a very extravagant price of course.

Haute couture can be thought of as the champagne of fashion; it sparkles, it’s expensive, and it’s a protected name. To be considered haute couture, a fashion house must comply with the strict rules set by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture; a committee in Paris made up of fashionable elites. The basic stipulations a fashion house must satisfy at the very least, include: an atelier or two geographically located in Paris with a specific number of full-time seamstresses and seasoned artisans; and, the clothes produced therein must be custom tailored to suit the personal preferences and body contours of private clients, with at least one or two fitting sessions as part of the order.

The allure of haute couture lies predominately in the fine details and its delicate architecture. To construct a garment, the craftsmanship must be peerless and the quality of the materials world class. It is also standard practice for the prices to never be shown with the actual clothes; i.e. there are no price tags dangling about. However, expect the price of haute couture to be one or two more zeroes than ready-to-wear. For instance, a blouse will cost around $10,000 and the price of an evening gown will start at $100,000.

The word “club” often gets highlighted in articles flirting with the topic of haute couture, and for good reason too; for haute couture is a mystic world open only to an exclusive circle that includes billionaire housewives with charity galas to attend, glitterati heiresses with pink Bugatti’s to drive, luxury brand-endorsed celebrities who borrow dresses to wear at red carpet events, and the rare millionaire editrix of a fashion bible (such as Anna Wintour).

Of all the houses offering high fashion, Chanel haute couture is a staple in any temperature and humidity-controlled wardrobe, due to its reputation for producing chic and wearable clothes. All ladies who lunch have at least one Chanel suit in their collection. Headed by Karl Lagerfeld, the team of designers at 31 Rue Cambon take the customary tweed fabric to a higher level of simple elegance; embellishing Coco’s legendary suit with pearls and sequins to add shine and pizzazz.

For something to wear in the evening, a fashionable lady will turn to clothiers known for their statement formal wear, such as Christian Dior Couture, Armani Privé, Elie Saab, Valentino, or Versace Atelier; all of whom know how to produce breathtaking and ethereal pieces of wearable art that wow the beholder, kindle desire, and leave a lasting impression.

Nevertheless, haute couture is by no means the profitable branch of these fashion houses, it should be noted. Indeed, the practice today serves as the beguiling diamond powder that dusts a brand’s overall glamorous appeal; it’s basically a very costly marketing campaign, but one with a good return on investment in the long run; for the glamourousness trickles down into the ready-to-wear, passes through to the miscellaneous sub-labels, and pools at beauty counters worldwide.

A good example of this effect can be observed by comparing Armani to Klein. Both retail high-end ready-to-wear, Giorgio Armani and Calvin Klein Collection, respectively; both generously offer a profusion of affordable diffusion lines, Armani Jeans and Calvin Klein Jeans, for example, to name but two youthful offspring. Yet, despite employing similar business strategies, Armani has the upper hand when it comes to desirability and exclusivity. The main difference is that Calvin Klein doesn’t have a stake in the world of expensive dress.

Luxury vestments carry a powerful image and create an intoxicating fantasy that the media happily capitalizes on. Haute Couture is seductive; it’s a wearable aphrodisiac. The finest silk appeals to the most basic instinct of human senses (tactile). The shimmering embroidery dances to enhance the mood of the setting (galactic). The overall beauty is arresting (hypnotic). Only a lucky few know how it feels to surrender one’s person to an episode of sartorial elegance, and to experience the height of individualism at its most exclusiveness. It’s not for everyone, to be sure; but one can always dream expensively.

By Boripat Lebel

Boripat Lebel is a research coordinator at the Unit for Social and Environmental Research at Chiang Mai University. He authored the eBook “A Vomit of Diamonds.” Boripat can also be found on LinkedIn .