There’s a great article in the Wall Street Journal today about couture, both real and feigned. ‘Couture’ is French for ‘sewing’. In France, the term ‘haute couture’ translates very roughly to ‘high fashion, but true haute couture entails much more. Here in the US, ‘couture’ has been co-opted, some might even say hijacked, by retailers and designers to designate expensive ready-to-wear. If you walk into Barney’s in Boston and check out the Couture department, you’ll find high-end RTW designers. But everything is made by machine, with very little or no hand-sewing. And it’s off the peg – it’s fit to a standard fit model. If you want it fit to your measurements, then a tailor will go to work on it once you have purchased it.
By contrast, almost all of an haute couture garment is sewn by hand, in one of the ateliers in France, by French workers. There may be occasional use of a machine sewn piece, but that’s the rare exception, not the rule. Haute couture customers choose their looks from the models (dress, not mannequin) sent down the runway, and they place orders which are sewn to their exact measurements, with several fittings taking place during construction. I could go on forever about the differences between high-end RTW and haute couture garments, but there are much better and more definitive works out there – check your library or favorite bookseller. The publications from the Met Costume Institute and the Kyoto Fashion Institute have good references.
Another interesting thing is the list (according to the WSJ) of haute couturiers:
Jean Paul Gaultier
I was intrigued to see how few haute couturiers exist any more. YSL and Versace both pulled out of the haute couture. And I don’t see any names on that list that contain the words Juicy or Binky.
So yes, it may be a nice dress, tracksuit or romper, and it may have set one back a pretty penny, but it ain’t couture.