Monday, November 17, 2014

Haute Couture and the Métier d’Arts

Designer: Nelly Saunier
Photo Credit: Alexis Lecomte

Haute couture came up in a conversation last week and it started a search. The phrase is often taken to mean high-end clothing, but it has a fuller connotation.  High-end or haute couture historical and modern clothing often elicits oohs and aahs for the very thing that, homespun clothing, ready-to-wear or prêt à porter lacks—details. Some details can be derived from the construction, the stiches that bind the garment, the drape that defines or hides the body and even the cut and placement of the material, assuming that it is material. 

Designer: Christian Dior
Photo Credit: Sophie Carre

However, it is often the embellishment that captures the eye and the imagination, a cascade of feathers, a jewel-encrusted torso, or a field of embroidered flowers. The embellishment of clothing, long the privilege of the aristocracy, became in the nineteenth-century with the advent of the House of Worth a codified accessory of the titled and the wealthy.  Starting in the mid-nineteenth-century specialist craft houses were established in Paris to create these flights of fancy. For generations artisans concocted the dreams of the designers, but as the last century ended, the craft families began to wane.

Designer: Broderies Vermont
Phot Credit: Alexis Lecomte

Karl Lagerfeld, of Chanel, was that appellation needed, I wonder, began to purchase these family-run ateliers to ensure the craftsperson and the coutiers’ survival. Several of the established houses now form the Paraffection branch of the House of Chanel. Their trade is not limited to Chanel, which would be short sighted, but is open to the other couture houses. A short list of the houses includes, Lesage, embroidery,Lemarie, feathers and flowers, andMaison Michel milliner and hatter.

Designer: Broderies Lanel
Photo Credit: Alexis Lecomte

The search led to several blog sites in English and French that speak to these crafts in more depth than I can offer and they are listed below. Additionally a new book was printed this season, Haute Couture Atelier: Artisans of Fashion, by Hélène Farnault and the images for this blog come from that book through a book review at this blog site Mix and Chic: MixandChic

Designer: Broderies Lanel
Photo Credit: Alexis Lecomte

Additional Sites:


Jeff Hopper is a consultant, historic house steward and social historian

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