What Does Couture Mean- Definition and French Translation

What does Couture Mean? Fashion Definition and French Translation

Couture is one of those overused fashion words that many times gets lost in translation. For most of the general population the only exposure they have to the term is from Kimora Lee Simmons’s once thriving brand, Juicy Couture. If you’ve been thinking all this time that Juicy Couture is really couture, let’s take a couple of steps back. No offense, Kimora, really. Now let’s begin. What does couture mean?

Defining  the terms Couture and Haute Couture in Fashion

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To properly define couture, let’s first look at its proper definition. Couture is a French word directly translating to mean “dressmaking”. Haute is another French word meaning “high fashion”, “high dressmaking”, or “high sewing”. Together, the terminology Haute Couture became its own elite form of fashion production and business. However, the term alone is not singular to fashion. In fact, couture is a common French surname as well as the name of several European cities. There’s a Couture-Saint-Germain in Belgium and several locales in France including Couture, Charente, Couture-d’Argenson, and Couture-sur-Loir.

So what does couture specifically mean in fashion? The proper term when referring to fashion design is actually, haute couture, though, the term is often shortened to just couture. This means that couture and haute couture mean exactly the same thing in the fashion world.

The History of Couture in Fashion Terminology

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The history of couture is rich dating back to mid-nineteenth century Paris. However, the designer credited as being the father of couture is actually an Englishman, Charles Frederick Worth. The designer popularized the idea of custom dressmaking for clients. Using a fit model, Worth would allow his clients to select colors, fabrics and other details before ever beginning his design process. Only then would he present a portfolio of options for the client to choose from.

Thus, Charles Frederick Worth became one of the first true haute couture designers by introducing the idea of high-fashion dressmaking. Today, the idea has become widespread. Notable fashion brands with haute couture lines include the likes of Chanel, Balenciaga, and Christian Dior. We even have a Paris Haute Couture Week, twice a year. During this time, haute couture houses showcase their latest designs. However, not just any brand can claim to be couture.

Haute Couture Collection Descriptions

Donatella Versace Haute Couture Runway - see more on THE DAPIFER
These luxurious, exclusive collections often have extravagant details and descriptions to match. This is what Donatella Versace had to say about her recent Atelier Versace Fall/Winter 2016 collection. The Atelier Versace Fall Winter 2016 collection exudes power and control with expressive pleats and voluminous elegance. These flowing, graceful dresses are the result of engineered pattern cutting; the drapes and constructed volumes showing the true skills of the Atelier. Regarding her Spring 17 collection she notes, Athletic couture – the Atelier Versace Spring Summer 2016 collection is for women who move to the beat of their own drum.

Haute Couture Sewing Techniques

Karl Lagerfeld Haute Couture Drawing - see more on THE DAPIFER
As mentioned, the origin of haute couture is based on the art of sewing. Unlike traditional construction methods, this type of design tends to be much more detailed oriented. When learning about these types of collections, you’ll often hear designers note that specific processes take hundreds of man hours. This is what makes haute couture truly unique, and expensive. Common couture sewing techniques include hand-made details like hand stitching, French seams, underlining, muslin construction, hand-picked zippers, facing hems, hand-beading and gold gilding. Today, the most expensive haute couture dress in the world is the Nightingale of Kuala Lumpur. Valued at at an unbelievable price of $30 million USD, it is made by designer Faiyzali Abdullak. Constructed of extravagant material including silk, chiffon and satin, the dress is covered in hundreds of diamonds and over 751 Swarovski crystals.

The French Law of Haute Couture Fashion

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While the term couture is definitely overused, it’s actually a heavily guarded terminology. Just ask the citizens of France, where haute couture is protected by law. Yes, branding a collection couture or haute couture incorrectly is illegal. In charge of enforcing the rules of haute couture fashion is the Chambre de commerce et d’industrie de Paris. The organization is solely responsible for deciding which fashion houses can call themselves, haute couture. To earn the label and the rights to its usage, a fashion brand must meet four separate criteria.

  1. Each couture house must design made-to-order garments for private clients. The process must require one or more fittings.
  2. A couture house must have a atelier in Paris and employ at least fifteen staff members full-time.
  3. Each house must employ a minimum of twenty full-time technical people, in at least one atelier location.
  4. Lastly, a haute couture house must present a couture collection of at least fifty original designs to the public every fashion season. The collection must include both evening and daytime garments.

Only then, after approval from the Chambre de commerce et d’industrie de Paris can a fashion brand label itself haute couture. You know what this means. Juicy Couture is not couture. We’ve heard it from the establishment, itself.

The List of Haute Couture Houses

Now that we’ve translated the true meaning of couture, let’s look at a few of the official haute couture fashion brands currently approved by the Chambre de commerce et d’industrie. Scroll to the end of the list to watch a real haute couture show from the Chanel runway.

  • ACNE STUDIOS
  • ADELINE ANDRÉ
  • ALEXANDER MCQUEEN
  • ALEXANDRE VAUTHIER
  • BALENCIAGA
  • BALMAIN
  • CELINE
  • CHANEL
  • CHLOÉ
  • CHRISTIAN DIOR
  • DRIES VAN NOTEN
  • FENDI
  • GIAMBATTISTA VALLI
  • GIORGIO ARMANI
  • GIVENCHY
  • HERMÈS
  • JEAN PAUL GAULTIER
  • JOHN GALLIANO
  • KENZO
  • LANVIN
  • LOUIS VUITTON
  • MAISON MARGIELA
  • MIU MIU
  • RICK OWENS
  • SAINT LAURENT
  • THOM BROWNE
  • VALENTINO
  • VERSACE
  • VIKTOR & ROLF
  • VIVIENNE WESTWOOD
  • YOHJI YAMAMOTO