Starting Sunday, June 30th, the iconic Paris fashion week is scheduled to commence. Featuring some of the most prominent designers from around the world, Paris Fashion Week is an exquisite display of the fashion industries seasonal trends – this includes showing what’s in this season as well as what is out this season. Fashion experts from around the world will be gathering in Paris to witness what innovative styles are in, including Brazilian fashionista, Donata Meirelles.
One of the categories covered during this memorable week is haute couture – “high-end fashion that is constructed by hand from start to finish, made from high quality, expensive, often unusual fabric and sewn with extreme attention to detail and finished by the most experienced and capable sewers, often using time-consuming, hand-executed techniques.” Haute couture directly translates from its French origin to “high-sewing.” However, over the years the term has transformed into a representation of high-end fashion.
In 1945, the year of the first Paris Fashion Week, the term “Haute Couture” became a legally registered designation of origin. Members are selected by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. “To qualify as an official Haute Couture house, members must design made-to-order clothes for private clients, with more than one fitting, using an atelier (workshop) that employs at least fifteen full-time staff. They must also have twenty full-time technical workers in one of their workshops. Finally, Haute Couture houses must present a collection of no less than 50 original designs — both day and evening garments — to the public every season, in January and July.”
Through the years, designers have challenged themselves to create such exquisite pieces to display in their haute couture collection. Only those with persistent efforts have managed to continuously be recognized as an elite brand.
The Retrospect of Important Haute Couture Brands
Although most people do not wear haute couture, nor do most individuals have the opportunity to attend such exclusive fashion shows at Paris Fashion Week, the importance of the industry should not be overlooked. Donata Meirelles is one fashion expert who reports that haute couture is not only symbolic of high fashion but also serves as an indicator of how the economy is doing and how the participating companies are operating. Furthermore, haute couture is an avenue for influential companies, including Valentino, Dior, Chanel, and Dolce & Gabbana, to sell a dream and market their brand.
Donata Meirelles has been working in the fashion industry for over thirty years. She previously worked at Daslu as an international buyer. During her time with Daslu, Meirelles was named one of the five best buyers in the world by the French magazine, L’officiel. Following her position at Daslu, Meirelles served as Style Director at Vogue for seven years. Throughout her experience, Meirelles has become an internationally respected member of the fashion industry.
Haute Couture: A Symbol of Economic Status and Well-Being
Since its inception, haute couture purchases have been limited to the ultra-wealthy. During the 1950s, customers included individuals such as Babe Paley, Marella Agnelli, and Grace Kelly. During the 1970s and 1980’s Nan Kempner, Lynn Wyatt, and Dodie Rosekrans were the couture poster women. Then, during the 1990s Kuwaiti socialite, Mouna al-Ayoub and Houston socialite Suzanne Saperstein were vocal about their love of haute couture. Vanity Fair said of Saperstein that she’s “probably the world’s number one consumer of haute couture.”
Today, there has been an influx in acquisitions on an international level. The wealthy from the United States, China, the Middle East, Russia, and even the emerging markets such as Africa and India are purchasing mass quantities of each collection. Those that purchase from these collections are paying a minimum of $10,000 for a daytime piece, while some are purchasing evening gowns at a whopping $9 million.
It is estimated that the velocity of sales has increased over the last decade – an indicator that the wealthy are continuing to find success. However, it is believed that a decline or slowdown in the industry could represent more than just a lessened desire for extravagant day and nightwear, but rather an indicator of economic stress for the ultra-wealthy. This could even be an indicator of the health of the global economy.
Haute Couture: A Reflection of the Participating Members
Not only does haute couture represent the status of its clients, but also indicates the strength of individual designers. Fashion designers use haute couture as a statement of strength and technical ability, given the strict guidelines that must be met to be labeled as such. Essentially, haute couture is an avenue in which designers share their most outrageous ideas with no budget in mind. Therefore, when designers are unable to participate in displaying their haute couture collections, their financial strength may be suffering. For example, in the early 2000s during the recession, Versace left the haute couture industry while the company almost diminished. They did not participate in haute couture fashion shows for eight years, between 2003-2011. However, in 2012 Versace returned to the runway, indicating to the audience that they were back in the game.
Haute Couture: An Avenue for Marketing
Outside of status, haute couture is utilized as an avenue for marketing a designer’s style. Although the outfits are beyond what most individuals would wear in their daily lives, the beauty in each piece draws the attention of new clientele worldwide to the designer’s everyday wear.
In fact, designers do not even need to wait until fashion week to display their latest piece. In the age of social media, where peoples every movement are documented with hashtags and posted on various sites including Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, the glamour created by the designers is available continuously. Therefore, designers have increased their participation in having A-class celebrities wear their latest haute couture designs on the red carpet, such as at the Academy Awards and the Grammy’s.
Haute Couture: A Symbol of Sustainability
We are currently living in a world promoting sustainability – and this concept is slowly transitioning into the fashion industry. In 2014, there were respectively 52 “micro-seasons” in fashion – one a week. This concept was known as fast fashion. However, this trend is slowly fading as consumers are becoming more aware of the impact their fashion purchases are making on the world around them. According to Meirelles, consumers should be “choosing quality garments over quantity.” With this shift in mentality, individuals previously participating in cheaper, fast fashion trends are now turning to lead designers to ensure the longevity of their clothing. How does this impact haute couture? Now, more than ever, are designers provided an avenue to reach beyond the ultra-wealthy and to the upper and middle class. With the combination of increased marketing via social media and a new mindset of sustainable fashion, haute couture is now a relevant avenue for designers to capture the attention of their new audiences.
Haute Couture: A Way of Selling A Dream
When the economy is in a slump, haute couture still has its purpose. From the elite who generally wear the collections to the impoverished in developing countries, haute couture sells a dream. It represents a luxury that many would want and what some once had in their lives. Meirelles points out that fashion goes beyond making a statement to others – “You can feel and look great at virtually any age.”
Gucci’s former CEO, Robert Polet, summarized this concept best: “People buy our brands because they want to be a part of a particular dream… So people before going into the store, they decide ‘I would like to be part of that dream.’ And that is an emotional decision. It’s an aspirational decision for many. And they’re seduced when in the store; they’re seduced by the product, by a really desirable product that you cannot resist … This is not about selling bags or shoes or ties or suits. This is about ‘Would you like to be a Gucci man or a Gucci woman?’”
A Glimpse Into Haute Couture Brands
There are dozens of designers who create the image of haute couture, displaying their collection at the seasonal fashion shows in Paris, Milan, and New York. However, according to Meirelles, there are few that really stand out in today’s fashion world. She recognized the integrity of Valentino, Channel, Dior, and Dolce & Gabbana, and identifies that each of these houses has been powerful influencers in the fashion industry.
Founded in 1960 by Valentino Garavani and Giancarlo Giammetti the Valentino brand has remained one of the champions of international fashion. Over the past decade, it has undergone a thorough and impactful creative evolution. The philosophy of tradition and innovation has driven the brand to play a major role in luxury. Working in a creative industry, this simple combination is necessary to generate their own unique sense of beauty.
Valentino’s fashion for men and women is displayed through the Haute Couture, the Prêt-à-Porter, and through the Valentino Garavani accessory lines that include shoes, bags, small leather goods, eyewear, scarves, ties, and fragrances. Their fashion has reached across the globe with 175 boutiques operating in over 175 countries.
Stefano Sassi is the Chief Executive Officer of Valentino S.p.A. and has been an integral part of the brand’s creative evolution by providing a new strategic vision. Sassi was also responsible for overseeing the transition of the brands creative design from Valentino Garavani to the Creative Directors Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli. That team has made Valentino one of the most successful fashion companies in haute couture.
French fashion designer Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel began her career as a milliner opening her first shop in Paris in 1913. Her first success in clothing design was actually in jersey dresses. As the House of Chanel expanded she opened boutiques in Deauville and Biarritz. As her designs progressed she became well known for her legendary collarless jackets and well-fitted skirts. Both raised eyebrows by borrowing elements from menswear and focusing more on tailoring and comfort than femininity and restriction. Chanel is also known for popularizing the little black dress, which is now a closet staple for all occasions.
Chanel was a pioneer in her creative vision and decided to launch her own line of perfume which was unheard of by a designer at the time. Developed in 1921 with Russian perfumer to theTsars, Ernest Beaux, the name for Chanel’s first fragrance is a bit of a mystery. Some believe it came from her superstitious belief in the virtues of the number five, but it is most likely that she picked the fifth sample presented to her by Beaux and the name stuck. Chanel No. 5 revolutionized the industry and has been one of the most important contributing factors to Chanel’s success.
Established in 1946 as part of a textile business owned by Marcel Boussac and Monsieur Christian Dior, the newly established brand launched its first fashion collection for the spring-summer of 1947. This line vaulted Dior into fashion history, being hailed as the “New Look.” This revolutionary style became extremely popular and its full-skirted silhouette continued to influence not only fashion but other designers well. As a result, Dior became a common sight on Hollywood elites, wealthy Americans, and the European aristocracy. In addition to its influential new look, Dior broke into the fragrance industry as well, revolutionizing the perfumery industry with the launch of the highly popular Miss Dior perfume in 1947, which was named after Catherine Dior (Christian Dior’s sister).
Dior set the foundation for his groundbreaking aesthetic and the list of industry pioneers who have followed in his footsteps is impressive. After his death in 1957, the company was taken in unexpected directions and expanded to include many of the ready-to-wear collections we recognize today. They eventually became so successful that they had to be separated from the original line which is now known as Christian Dior Couture.
Dior is now headed by the labels first female director, Maria Grazia Chiuri, the former Valentino co-creative director. Her approach is literal, unapologetic and streetwear-inspired, but her designs still resonate with the same confidence as the original full-skirted silhouette that brought fame to the brand. The message of female empowerment that women connect with today is alive and well in Dior.
Dolce & Gabbana
Dolce & Gabbana was established in 1985 by Italian designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana. That same year they participated in Milan Fashion Week – and since then, they have continued to grow and develop their brand. They are most recognized for creating a marque that promotes glamour and versatility. They are the recognized designers for Madonna, Monica Bellucci, Isabella Rossellini, Kylie Minogue, and Angelina Jolie, among others. Their women are strong and their designs represent a woman who likes herself and knows she is liked.
The company today consists of numerous lines, including Dolce&Gabbana, D & G, as well as their bridal line, cosmetics line, fragrances and jewelry. Dolce&Gabbana is mostly recognized as haute couture because it specializes in luxury items inspired by high-design and more formal and timeless pieces that respond to long-term trends as well as season changes.
Although not a member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, Dolce & Gabbana have recently started establishing pieces recognized as haute couture. In 2018, they portrayed a unique collection in New York, representing their Spring-Summer 2018 Alta Mode collection. Today, Alfonso Dolce, CEO, and Christiana Ruella, COO, continue to market the elegance of the brand.
A Final Word: Haute Couture Will Never Cease to Exist
The expression in haute couture is symbolic for the many reasons listed above, and the life of the fashion style will continue to thrive. According to Ralph Toledano, president of both the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode and Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, the body in charge of all couture output, “Haute couture is a growing market; fashion houses keep increasing their sales in this activity and the clientele is expanding, diversifying… Haute couture has always been, and remains, a land of free expression for designers, a land where creativity meets tradition with innovation.
*2019 Haute Couture at the Paris Fashion Show
Paris Haute Couture will be held this year from Sunday, June 30th to Thursday, July 4th. This July brings attention to the Fall/Winter 2019/2020 collections.
Designers that will be displaying their latest designs includes: Aelis, RR331, Aganovich, Adeline André, Yuima Nakazato, Xuan, and Christophe Josse (Sunday); Schiaparelli, Ulyana Sergeenki, Iris Van Herpen, Georges Hobeika, Christian Dior, Rabih Kayrouz House, Ralph & Russo, Antonio Grimaldi, Giambattista Valli, and Azzaro (Monday); Chanel, Alexis Mabille, Stéphane Rolland, Julien Fournié, Alexandre Vauthier, Giorgio Amani, and Givenchy (Tuesday); House Margiela, Franck Sorbier, Elie Saab, RVDK Ronald Van Der Kemp, Jean Paul Gaultier, Viktor & Rolf, Zuhair Murad, Valentino, and Guo Pei (Wednesday). Thursday will include a display of fine jewelry.
About Donata Meirelles
Donata Meirelles is a Brazilian fashion expert, and trend setter. She remains a popular part of the Brazilian fashion scene with her influencer status on Instagram. She’s also well known for her time as the Style Director at Vogue Brasil, one of the most popular international editions of the world’s foremost fashion magazine. Donata is also well known for her time at Daslu where French fashion magazine L’Officiel voted her one of the 5 best international buyers.
Donata Meirelles remains a committed philanthropist as well, and continues to work with the Women in the World Foundation, as well as amfAR.
Follow Donata on Twitter here.