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  1. claireshaeffer

    claireshaeffer VFG Member

    I feel compelled periodically to ask and answer this question.
    In the US, expensive ready-to-wear is called and sometimes label "couture." The designs are mass produced for the design house's target customer.

    Haute couture is strictly controlled by the Chambre syndicale de la couture parisienne ( Parisian High Fashion Syndicate), the governing body of French fashion houses. The term haute couture is strictly reserved for its members. There are a variety of regulations for the members. Here are some of them: a workroom is Paris, it must create designs for private clients which require one or more fittings, and present an haute couture collection twice a year.

    Here is the list I give my students:
    •Haute couture is not available in stores.
    •It is made specifically for the client who ordered it.
    •Pattern is made by draping muslin on a dress form that duplicates client’s figure.
    •Client will have one or more fittings.
    •Garment is made by hand-shaping.
    •There is a preponderance of hand stitches.
    •There is no size label.
    •It has few, if any, darts.
    •Fabric grain is often manipulated for a more attractive finish.
    •It has no machine buttonholes.
    •Lining is sewn by hand.
    •Fabrics are expensive and may be exclusive.
    •Costs ranges from $5,000. - $500,000.

    I know many of you have a similar list; I hope you will add your observations to this thread.
    There are also some exceptions; i.e. vintage garments made for stores before the French made PAP. Perhaps we can discuss it in another thread.

    Attached Files:

  2. Vintagiality

    Vintagiality VFG Treasurer

    Thank you, Claire! So interesting and informative.

    That truly surprised me! Why is that?
  3. GemGem

    GemGem Registered Guest

    Brilliant, so concise, very helpful.
  4. pastperfect2

    pastperfect2 Alumni +

    Claire, I think I remember reading that in addition to showing a collection at least twice a year, there is also a minimum number of garments shown? Or is my memory wandering around?
  5. poppysvintageclothing

    poppysvintageclothing VFG Board Member Staff Member VFG Past President

  6. claireshaeffer

    claireshaeffer VFG Member

    Hollis, you are right.
    When I wrote Couture Sewing Techniques, it was 75. I thinks it's 40 now. A garment can be a dress or a suit ensemble. C
    pastperfect2 likes this.
  7. Jonathan

    Jonathan VFG Member

    Yes, an oft misused description... I have seen the use of demi-couture, which is generally used to describe Paris designer semi-made up clothing bought in high end shops within department stores like Bergdorf Goodman and Holt's, which was then fitted to the buyer. The term was especially used in the 1950s and 1960s. Otherwise, the term I prefer to use is simply 'designer' as 'couture' could be used to accurately describe a home sewer with a singer sewing machine who adapts a Butterick pattern...
    poppysvintageclothing likes this.
  8. claireshaeffer

    claireshaeffer VFG Member

    I agree partially with you.
    I prefer "designer" also.
    Even a dressmaker who develops an original design on a dress form is not a couturier.

    In the 60s when we live in the Bay area, you could go to I. Magnin sales to see haute couture designs that had not been sold during the season.
    In my collection, I have several couture designs by Givenchy and Balenciaga that have a couple of deficiencies. I must add as well that some Houses did better work than others.
    I think I posted this before--the Met (before Richard Martin) had some Givenchy toiles with fabric swatches from Bergdorfs. Customers could order from Givenchy and Bergdorf's would fine tune the fit if needed. I wonder what happened to those toiles.

    There is an interesting chapter in Bergdorfs on the Plaza about the BG custom salon. According to Goodman, you paid as much to have a BG copy as an original. In New Look to Now, Melissa Leventon writes that the I. Magnin designs were about half the cost of an original.
    poppysvintageclothing likes this.
  9. Midge

    Midge Super Moderator Staff Member

    The core of the Swiss Textile Collection's collection is made up of the wardrobe of a lady who had money and lived partially here in Zurich and in Austria. The story is that she had most of her clothes made by a salon here in Zurich, whose owner travelled to Paris twice a year to attend the haute couture shows where she'd purchase the patterns for certain designs - 1950s to late 80s, among them YSL and Balmain.
    poppysvintageclothing likes this.
  10. claireshaeffer

    claireshaeffer VFG Member

    This was true in the US as well. Chez Ninon, Garfinkels, and I.Magnin were examples. Chez Ninon was a couture business in NY--best known for the Chanel suit copy Jackie Kennedy wore to Dallas.
    poppysvintageclothing and Midge like this.
  11. If one has a dress or suit with a dept store label and another manufacture, but no union label, what would this be called?
    I have a beautiful wool suit, 1950s, with lovely "designer" detailing with a Miller & Rhoades label, along with Redmond Bros tailoring.
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2021
  12. claireshaeffer

    claireshaeffer VFG Member

    I think there are lots of suits like yours; I would call it designer.
    I don't think having a union label is important, but I assume most of the larger manufacturers had union workers.

    A later criteria might relate to fusible interfacings, even though most rtw has fusible interfacings today. I have a stunning jacket from YSL (1978) with a beautiful shaped collar with fusible interfacings. The original price on the jacket was $1600. I call it "designer."

    Many suits from the 40s and 50s may have hand-padding since there were no fusibles. I have some suits but I haven't peeked under the linings.
    Jonathan, your thoughts.
  13. Thank you. This piece does not have fusible interfacing.
    It is very well made with crepe lining in the jacket and the skirt.
  14. Vintagiality

    Vintagiality VFG Treasurer

    So was there no couture before the establishment of this governing body? I ask because I just found a piece which I think is from the late 1800s that I am very excited about. I would have called it French couture but now I am uncertain if that’s true. Is it couture, or would you call it something else? Bespoke?

    I haven’t taken photos of the entire top yet but here is the label
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2021
    The Vintage Merchant likes this.
  15. Jonathan

    Jonathan VFG Member

    For Victorian era clothes it can be couture, but not haute couture. The idea of haute couture was created by the fashion industry in 1868, and more heavily regulated first in 1911 and again in 1921 and again in 1942 (?) (not sure on the 1942 date without checking, but it was around then give or take a year). Couture, just means made to order or dressmaker made. This label is also possibly not couture, but confection, which is the old name for ready-made. If its made for speculative sale, then its technically ready to wear and manteaux were usually off the peg, not made to order.
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2021
  16. The Vintage Merchant

    The Vintage Merchant Administrator Staff Member

    can't wait to see your full garment photos!!
    Vintagiality likes this.
  17. Vintagiality

    Vintagiality VFG Treasurer

    I guess that’s what I am confused about. How would you know if it was made to order? Being that old and handmade and I believe handstitched and the address appearing to be in a high end neighborhood of Paris made me think that this perhaps is bespoke.

    Also, I thought manteau is simply the French word for coat.
  18. Jonathan

    Jonathan VFG Member

    You would only really know if it was made to order if it had a tag inside with the woman's name and date of completion, but not all couture houses did that. Handstitching is a sign of quality workmanship, but Paris had workrooms with dozens of seamstresses finishing everything by hand. If you look closely you will probably see that the seams were machine stitched and the finishing was all had stitched. There is nothing wrong with confection in this era, it's not fast fashion crap - it's just not made to order. A lot of these ended up in North America because of wealthy Americans travelling to Paris and unable to get an appointment with Mr. Worth, settled for a high end confection shop, or an unknown couturier who knocked off Worth and other haute couturies. Eventually the couturiers realized they were losing important business to to the confection trade, and that is when the boutiques started, and they could also sell money makers like scents there.

    And yes, coats/cloaks and mantles were usually ready made or partially finished as they don't require the same amount of fitting as a dress.

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