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Yves Saint Laurent in the studio in 1962 © Victor Soto
Yves Saint Laurent in the studio in 1962 © Victor Soto

A Brief History Of Haute Couture In Paris

Picture of Paul McQueen
Updated: 2 March 2017
Haute couture, which literally translates as ‘high dressmaking’, is the production of handmade, custom-fitted clothing using the finest materials. A single dress might take an expert sewer one thousand hours to make and cost the buyer ten or twenty times as many dollars. Though, in many cases, the work of art created is priceless. Paris is the home of haute couture – where the term is protected by law and its practitioners must meet a rigid set of criteria – and has been for 300 years.

Fashion as we know it today has its origins in the court of Louis XIV. So keen was he to see the Parisian look of his day take hold that he sent life-sized fashion dolls to every European Court. Foreign dressmakers could then study the clothes, footwear, hats and accessories, master their construction and replicate them for the local nobles. France’s dominance over all things chic continued throughout the 18th century and it is Jeanne-Marie Rose Bertin, fashion designer to Marie Antoinette, who is most often cited as the world’s first couturier. She dressed the queen from 1770 to her dethronement in 1792, and can be credited with inventing the notorious, gravity-defying pouf hairstyle.

Portrait of Marie Antoinette │