With dramatic and unconventional gowns, high splits and trend setting—if not bizarre—designs, Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week began Sunday July 6 and will continue through the week. Already seeing stunning celebrity appearances like Jennifer Lopez at Versace, haute couture is all the sartorially savvy will be talking about in the coming week. But, since most of us don’t frequent the big name fashion houses like Chanel and Christian Dior, some might wonder what haute couture is and why it matters.
By definition, haute couture means “the people and companies that create clothes that are very expensive and fashionable” according to Merriam Webster dictionary. A French phrase, the term directly translates to “high sewing.”
Specifically, haute couture fashions are usually made to order fashions at grossly exorbitant prices. One barely there, diamond encrusted dress by designer Scott Henshall, for example, cost about $9 million when singer Samantha Mumba wore it to the Spiderman II premier in 2004. While that dress is an extreme example of haute couture pricing, the low range cost for a couture piece is still more than most are willing or able to pay at about $25,000.
Buying haute couture is an obvious outward declaration of wealth. Designers, though, use haute couture to boast in another way. Like Project Runway on speed, couture designs showcase designer expertise with their immense technical difficulty. Just to be granted entry into the world of haute couture, a designer has to meet meticulous guidelines and have a Paris-based atelier (design studio) with at least 20 employees.
Couture designs are known for sparking trends seen in stores—think Angelina Jolie’s leg baring split Versace gown—and, despite the cost, couture sales are reportedly on the rise.
According to fashion trade magazine Women’s Wear Daily, Chanel’s Spring 2014 collection bumped couture sales for the atelier by 20%. WWD attributes this bump to couture’s new, younger audiences. Chanel’s sales, according to fashion and beauty blog Refinery29, were also spurred by a pair of $4,079 bejeweled couture sneakers fitted more for a daughter than her mother. The kicks, made of python embroidered with lace, pearls and tweed, were the star but could only be sold with the full couture ensemble.
Darn it. Guess I’ll have to buy the entire adorable, sparkly jumper set.