Friday, February 10, 2012

History of French Fashion and Haute Couture

Before the French Revolution started, elaborate dresses with ruffles, brocaded silks, and ballooning skirts that French women like Queen Marie Antoinette used to wear were considered fashionable. Simultaneously, in the 1780s a simpler style of dressing (like the one Rousseau encouraged) began to emerge. Women left behind the need for extravagant dresses and accessories, and instead wore “graceful white muslin vied with brocaded silks, natural hair and straw hats” . These changes in the accepted definition of fashion entailed a change in society’s definitions of femininity and womanhood.

Queen Marie Antoinette

Along with the changes of fashion in the 1780s came the emergence of fashion journals, the first fashion press that began dictating or setting the boundaries and meanings of future fashion. These journals, specifically the Cabinet des modes, were meant to be read by all those affected and interested in fashion, and aimed to organize the fashion culture solely on the basis of gender (and left behind categories such as rank, class, or privilege).

These French fashion journals simultaneously praised taste over luxury and excessive accessories. According to the editors taste consisted “particularly in the choice and assortment of colors, from which results an agreeable harmony that spills over onto the whole person” . This meant that fashion was available to everyone, not only those who could afford luxurious fabrics and jewels.

The fashion journals that emerged during this time served as the basis for the various fashion magazines that exist today. As Jones writes, "although one could discern some general guidelines as to how la mode operated, fashion must always remain, to some extent, an enigma..." This idea is one of the main reasons fashion journals or magazines became so successful then, and are so successful now. The fashion press is definitely able to set the basic guidelines for taste, and therefore, for fashion.

Paris has been at the vanguard of fashion since the Romans got tunic-making tips from the Gauls. Things really took off during the 17th century, when the costumes of royals and aristocrats inspired the envy of both the wealthy and the lowly, who eventually got so fed up with those 5ft. high powdered wigs and 10ft. wide bejeweled skirts that they started a Revolution. Post-Revolutionary Empire style, perhaps aware of the decadent fastidiousness of the previous century, was all about a “simple” Neoclassical ideal. Fashion as we know it today came into being in the 1800s, when the first department stores were built . The bourgeoisie became consummate consumers; artists like Edouard Manet and writers like Charles Baudelaire began to represent fashion as a harbinger of modernity—a unique expression of “the moral and aesthetic feeling” of the era. Soon thereafter, the couturier (designer; see Couture Culture) was born.

Paul Poiret
Elsa Schiaparelli

The first modern couturier was Charles Frederick Worth, whose House of Worth opened in Paris in 1858. Worth invented the fashion show, the designer-as-celebrity (clothing-makers had previously been considered lowly artisans), and the fashion label as a status symbol. In the early 20th century, designers like Madeliene Vionnet and Paul Poiret, influenced by Art Nouveau and Orientalist trends, “liberated” women from corsets and heavy petticoats, designing whimsical shapes and flowing bias-cut dresses. In the 1920s, the iconic Coco Chanel revolutionized women’s dress with her boyish elegance, insistence on comfort, legendary suits, and invention of the “little black dress.” Meanwhile, the designs of innovators like Elsa Schiaparelli echoed radical art movements like Surrealism and Cubism ( Salvador Dalí designed the fabric and even designs for some of her dresses). During WWII, strict regulations were enforced on fabric and design, and patriotic self-denial came into fashion.
Coco Chanel
Christian Dior
Paco Rabanne

In 1937 Christobal Balenciaga opened his own  Couture house and made a mark in fashion world and with few years he became famous and many critics spoke of him as the new Master ,his designs were heavily influenced by Spanish Renaissance .
In 1945 Pierre Balmain opened his own  Couture House and revolutionized fashion and his long bell shaped skrts with narrow waist became very popular. But in 1947, Christian Dior aroused shock, anger, and delight with the cinched waists and outlandishly full skirts of his New Look, re-establishing Paris as the center of the fashion world and, once again, reinventing the way the female form was idealized. In the 1960s, André Courrèges, the aristrocrat and designer Hubert De Givenchy , Nina Ricci and Paco Rabanne moved fashion in fantastically futuristic directions, employing bold shapes and radical new materials. Yves Saint Laurent dominated Parisian fashion throughout the second half of the 20th century with his embrace of androgynous style and Left Bank beatnik chic.

Count Hubert De Givenchy

Today, designers like Jean-Paul Gaultier and Christian Lacroix display their creations in extravagant bi-annual spectacles, the Paris fashion shows. Fashion continues to exist at the crossroads of art and consumerism; to reinvent the past and imagine the future; and to shape—and be shaped by—the way we perceive our desires, bodies, and eras. And Paris is where it all goes down.

Jean-Paul Gaultier

Christian Lacroix

Haute Couture Industry

The $75,000 ball gown with 1,000 layers of tulle. The wedding dress with 400,000 hand-sewn glass beads. The floor-length coat made of shredded leather and hand-dyed wool -- these are all examples of "haute couture" fashions. Haute couture is a French term that refers to one of a kind, ornate "high" fashions, that are often conceptual and experimental in nature. Haute couture fashion represents a chance to create the best of the best - using the highest-quality textiles, and unique materials like aged leather, chain mail, or 24 karat gold. Haute couture projects give designers the opportunity to experiment with innovative sewing techniques, hand-sewing and beading, and to create fanciful, exquisite designs that are much more prestigious than ready-to-wear (mass market) collections.

Haute couture is a multi-million dollar per-year industry - though most haute couture creations are extremely costly to produce. However, the notoriety and prestige of haute couture fashions (especially when worn by celebrities) have the unique ability to generate tremendous publicity for a design house - and that almost always leads to higher sales in the designer's ready-to-wear collections, which can often include simplified, more affordable versions of couture pieces.

Paris has been a leader in the fashion industry (both haute couture and ready-to-wear) since the 18th century, when the fashions of the French monarchy at Versailles were adopted by people all across Europe. Wealthy women from all over began to travel to Paris to shop, and the fashion industry there flourished -- French seamstresses and tailors became known as the best in Europe, and clothing made in Paris became known as the best in the world.

By the beginning of the 20th century, several of the first international haute couture houses were established in Paris: Chanel, Lanvin, Christian Dior, Givenchy , Nina Ricci, Balenciaga, Pierre Balmain to name a few. These designers used creativity and innovation to establish design precedents, and eventually spawned a second generation of designers - Pierre Cardin, Yves Saint Laurent, and Emmanuel Ungaro among others. Today, Paris must compete with Milan, Japan, and New York for the title of "epicenter" of the fashion world, but the history of high fashion has its roots firmly in France.

Pierre Balmain dressing a lady

Yves Saint Laurent
Cristobal Balenciaga

While haute couture designs are often seen as impractical and even "costumey," there is no denying that they represent all that is whimsical and fresh about fashion - each season designers take risks with materials, cut, and fit, and continually create innovative and inspiring designs. 

Designers either make "ready to wear costumes", some are "Haute Couture" designers and some make both (Haute Couture and Ready to Wear). 
I have mentioned in the profiles of designers who make Haute Couture collections,also here is the list of the designers who are/were members of the prestigious Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture(Chamber Syndicate of Haute Couture):

  • Current Members are:Karl Lagerfield(Channel),John Gilliano(Christian Dior),in 2012 new designers replaced Gilliano,Ricardo Tisci(Givenchy),Jean Paul Gaultier,Ellie Saab,Valentino,Giorgio Armani(Armani Prive),Versace,Adeline Andre
  • Past Members Include:Balenciaga,Christian Lacroix,Emilio Pucci,Christian Dior,Yves Saint Laurent,Guy Laroche,Jeanne Lanvin,Nina Ricci,Pierre Balmain,Ralph Rucci
 Timeline of all Haute Couture designers is here:
  Haute Couture Designers Timeline

Being a member is an honour but there are designers who are not member of Chambre Syndicale de la Haute but yet have presented Haute Couture collection for many years e.g Alaxender McQueen.

No comments:

Post a Comment