Savoir-Faire in Vogue: Inside a Haute Couture Maison

Dior Fall/Winter 2021/2022 Haute Couture Show. Image courtesy of Dior.
Karl Lagerfeld fits one of his designs on top model Ines de la Fressange at Chloe’s studio in Paris. Image courtesy of Pierre Vauthey/Sygma.
Seamstresses working at House of Worth in 1907. Image courtesy of Jacques Boyer and Roger Viollet.
Yves Saint Laurent and his assistant Claude Licard judging the effect of a fabric worn by a model in 1961. Photo by Pierre Boulat. Image courtesy of Association Pierre et Alexandra Boulat.
Atelier Versace Fall/Winter 2019 Couture. Image courtesy of Versace.
Balenciaga Fall 2021 Couture. Image courtesy of Balenciaga.
Dior Spring 2021 Haute Couture. Image courtesy of Acielle / Style du Monde.
Chanel’s atelier in 1935. Image courtesy of Chanel.
Céline Dion wearing a dress and accessories by Schiaparelli at the Schiaparelli Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2019/2020 show. Image courtesy of Jacopo Raule.
(Left) Chanel Fall 2017 Couture, image courtesy of Chanel; (right) Elie Saab Haute Couture AW21, image courtesy of Elie Saab.
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In celebration of  “Savoir-Faire: The Mastery of Craft in Fashion” at K11 MUSEA in Hong Kong, we deep-dive into the world of couture through a collection of articles exploring the history and legacies of some of the most revered designers.

TEXT: Sheena Khemaney
IMAGES: Courtesy of various

 

Unlike the usual ready-to-wear collections that trickle into boutiques approximately six to eight months after it has been revealed on the catwalk, the show-stopping haute couture pieces—each extravagant dress or suit requiring four to 10 seamstresses, hundreds of hours of work, impeccable craftsmanship and attention to detail—appear in the carefully curated wardrobes of the super-rich as early as two or three months following its release. Some of the regular haute couture clients even have a mannequin made to their exact measurements so they don’t have to take multiple trips to the Paris atelier for each fitting.

 

Dior Fall/Winter 2021/2022 Haute Couture Show. Image courtesy of Dior.

 

The haute couture fashion houses present their fantastical collections twice a year—the spring/summer lines are shown in January and the fall/winter lines are shown in July. The number of hours spent working on a single haute couture look can take from 300 to 1000 or more hours, from start to finish, whereas a typical ready-to-wear creation takes around 50 to 100 hours to produce and is, of course, considerably less expensive.

In order for a fashion house to be officially qualified as a haute couture maison, members have to be selected by the renowned and highly-respected French institution, Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCM) and follow the below rules and regulations:

  • Haute Couture designs must be made-to-order for private clients and have one or more fittings
  • The maison must have an atelier (workshop) in Paris that employs at least 15 full-time staff
  • The maison must also have 20 full-time technical workers in one of their ateliers
  • The maison must present a collection of 50 original designs, featuring both day and evening looks, to the press and the public, every season

Here are a few intriguing figures (and some nitty-gritty details) about the workings of a haute couture maison.

 

Karl Lagerfeld fits one of his designs on top model Ines de la Fressange at Chloe’s studio in Paris. Image courtesy of Pierre Vauthey/Sygma.
Seamstresses working at House of Worth in 1907. Image courtesy of Jacques Boyer and Roger Viollet.

 

2

The number of fittings required for a simple haute couture gown that has been shown on the catwalk.

4

The number of seamstresses (also known as les petites mains) that work on a single haute couture garment. The team is usually made up of a head seamstress (also known as a première) and three seamstresses. However, if the haute couture look is more detailed and elaborate, up to 10 craftspeople can work on it.

 

Yves Saint Laurent and his assistant Claude Licard judging the effect of a fabric worn by a model in 1961. Photo by Pierre Boulat. Image courtesy of Association Pierre et Alexandra Boulat.
Atelier Versace Fall/Winter 2019 Couture. Image courtesy of Versace.

 

8
The number of correspondent (foreign) members whose ateliers aren’t based in Paris. The correspondent members are: Atelier Versace, Elie Saab, Fendi Couture, Giorgio Armani Privé, Iris Van Herpen, Ulyana Sergeenko, Valentino, and Viktor & Rolf.

10
The number of fittings required for a heavily-embellished or heavily-embroidered and truly special custom haute couture gown.

 

Balenciaga Fall 2021 Couture. Image courtesy of Balenciaga.
Dior Spring 2021 Haute Couture. Image courtesy of Acielle / Style du Monde.

 

15
The number of guest members (designers) that were invited to present during the 2021 haute couture week. The guest members were: Aelis, Azzaro Couture, Balenciaga, Charles de Vilmorin, Christophe Josse, Georges Hobeika, Imane Ayissi, Julie de Libran, Pyer Moss Couture, Rahul Mishra, Ralph Rucci, RVDK Ronald Van Der Kemp, Vaishali S, Yuima Nakazato, and Zuhair Murad.

16
The number of official haute couture members. The official haute couture members are: Adeline André, Alexandre Vauthier, Alexis Mabille, Bouchra Jarrar, Chanel, Christian Dior, Franck Sorbier, Giambattista Valli, Givenchy, Jean Paul Gaultier, Julien Fournié, Maison Margiela, Maison Rabih Kayrouz, Maurizio Galante, Schiaparelli, and Stéphane Rolland.

150
The average number of hours of work to complete a relatively simple haute couture look.

1,000
The average number of hours of work to complete an extravagant haute couture ensemble that features intricate handiwork, embellishments and detailing. Garments that are crafted with fine embroidery or thousands of sequins, for instance, will take a lot longer as it’s all hand-sewn.

 

Chanel’s atelier in 1935. Image courtesy of Chanel.

 

Céline Dion wearing a dress and accessories by Schiaparelli at the Schiaparelli Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2019/2020 show. Image courtesy of Jacopo Raule.
(Left) Chanel Fall 2017 Couture, image courtesy of Chanel; (right) Elie Saab Haute Couture AW21, image courtesy of Elie Saab.

 

2,200
There are approximately only 2,200 les petite mains working with the official haute couture maisons that are recognised by the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode. It takes a decade of intense study and apprenticeship for these highly-skilled and precise les petites mains—in English, it translates to “the little hands”—to meet the fashion house’s required standards. These artisans’ work is often split into two categories: tailoring and flou, a term used to describe fabrics that are quite delicate, floaty and soft.

4,000
The estimated number of haute couture clients in the world today—over 200 of them are thought to be regular shoppers. Some of the most famous clients in the world include Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, Elena Perminova, Queen Rania of Jordan, Céline Dion, and Danielle Steele.

10,000
Depending on the brand, a haute couture creation can set you back from US$10,000 (minimum) to US$80,000. The more elaborate haute couture pieces and those that fall under the bridal wear category, can cost upwards of US$150,000. If you ask us though, it’s worth every single dollar.

 

 

The exhibition “Savoir-Faire: The Mastery of Craft in Fashion” will be held at K11 Art & Culture Centre in K11 MUSEA, Hong Kong, from 13 December 2021 through to 14 February 2022.

For more information and bookings, check out the K11 MUSEA website or head to the K11 HK app.

 

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