Chambre Syndicale Fashion History
Haute Couture has come a long way since the
days of Louis XIV who promoted French fashion through Fashion Dolls.
The fashion history of Haute Couture truly began in France in the
18th century with couturier Rose Bertin as Minister
For Fashion and continued with Leroy after Napoleon became
Emperor in 1804.
In those early days famous ladies and royal
personages told the couturiers what they wanted in dress
Later in the 19th century Englishman
Charles Worth regarded now as the father of modern
Haute Couture first put his name on the label of clothes. In 1858
in Paris he began to produce collections of clothes from his own
ideas for clients to see and approve or disapprove. Worth's
approach was considered novel. His ideas of showing finished
couture garments on live models were a huge success with the
Empress Eugenie and so designers began to dictate what might be
Ten years later Charles Worth shown in the
header above and his sons founded an association of couture
houses called The Chambre Syndicale De La Confection Et De La
Couture Pour Dames Et Fillettes. Its initial purpose was
intended to stop couture designs being copied.
In fashion history terms the organization has progressed and changed its
name with the times in an effort to promote French fashion and
the French Haute Couture style.
The Chambre Syndicale De La Haute Couture is
one of several Chambres Syndicales that make up the
Fédération Française De La Couture Du
Prêt-à-Porter established in 1973. It is known also
more simply as the Chambre Syndicale De La Couture.
Over the 20th century the number of couture design
houses contracted to just 18 by 2000. In 1946 there were 106 fashion houses and
even in 1952 there were still sixty salons.
By 1997 only 18 salons were in a position to produce full
public fashion collections twice yearly. Sadly, by January 2002, at the time of
Yves St. Laurent's announcement of his retirement, there were only 12 couture
houses left. In 2003 Donatella Versace stopped doing the couture shows and
by 2004 so did Ungaro.
So by 2004 only 9 formed the high ranking couture houses of
Chanel, Dior, Givenchy, Gaultier, Lacroix, Mori, Sirop, Scherrer and Torrente.
Valentino not situated in France is a correspondent second ranking member.
Then there are
junior couturiers who make a lesser third group and who are considered guest members
not part of the higher ranks until elected in by the rest.
Recently in late January 2005 70 year old fellow Italian
Giorgio Armani, decided to show in Paris making a statement showcase of his 'not ready to retire yet'
decision. Even fewer houses are showed at Paris fashion
week Jan 2005. This situation is in such flux, that it is impossible
to keep an accurate record of the industry.
It is the regulating commission that determines
which fashion design houses are eligible to be true haute couture
houses. Within the Fédération the Syndicale is a
body that promotes, educates, represents, defends, deals with
social and working benefits and advises its members in all
relations between labour and management, including great names of
the Paris couture world. The Syndicale also deals with piracy of
styles, foreign relations and organization and coordination of
the fashion collection timetables. They also institute some
collective international advertising for the French fashion
Finally the Chambre Syndicale runs a Paris
couture school to train hopeful designers and technicians of the
couture trade. Fashion courses marry old techniques with new and
include use of Computer Aided Design (CAD) using Lectra
systems as well as fashion design, apprenticeship, finishing
courses and couture. Famous designers talk to the students and
allow them to see fashion showings. It's a great source of
skilled labour and fresh talent for the dwindling couture
According to Chambre Syndicale De La Couture
rules, to classify as a couture house a couturier must produce 50
new and original designs of day and evening wear for each
collection. They must show 2 collections a year. They must employ
a minimum of at least twenty full-time technical people in at
least one atelier or workshop.
Because of the strict regulations by the
Chambre only a few design houses can use the exclusive Haute
Couture label. The current number of couture classification
houses are entitled to free advertising on state run French
Private buyers form only a fraction of the
sales of a couture house. Manufacturers attend collections to buy
models, toile patterns or to seek inspiration. Bi-annually in
January and July buyers and world press flock to Paris for the
spring/summer and fall/winter Haute Couture and Ready To
Wear/Prêt-à-Porter collections. The Fédération Française oversees the smooth
running of organizing the buyers and press with the Chambre
Couture houses charge an entrance fee to
wholesale and retail firms who book to see the collections. The
fee is scaled according to individual firms. Some firms go only
to get an idea of the 'line'. They have bought the right to
inspiration. They might buy a complete model gown as shown in the
collection or they buy a toile in linen with the details sketched
in with a sketch of the pattern, original sample fabric and
Once the model has been bought in any of these
ways the buyer has the right to reproduce it and to mention the
name of the house from which it originated. In the UK the firm
Wallis have done this and over the years they have produced
innovative original stylish clothes.
Branding is so important to a couture house
that counterfeiting is international. The success of a brand can
be measured in terms of how much is illegally produced. Brand
names like Chanel, Armani, Gucci and Prada and Versace have all
suffered lost profit from counterfeit perfume and T-shirts or other
contraband goods all bearing their name or an almost identical
logo look alike.
Designers also license their name so that it
can be applied to all sorts of items from belts, spectacle
frames, sunglasses, pens, underwear, crockery, wallpaper to bed
linen. In the early days of branding some designers like Pierre
Cardin let their name be over used. In his case he granted over
800 licenses that allowed the intertwined PC logo symbol
worldwide use. The brand lost some of its cachet, but Cardin
regained much personally by producing small limited collections
and only showing them to private clients.
Exclusivity means enhanced value to the status
conscious consumer, whilst overuse of a brand devalues it, making
In a world of relaxed dressing and passé
dress codes today's couture lacks viability for even the minority
that might afford it. Those who can and still choose to, are an
ageing clientele. The young rich prefer to wear jeans and top from an up
and coming 'young' designer with a finger on the buzzer. Even more
significant is the fact that many don't have the posture or desire to wear
New ways of making money have had to be formulated. The huge cash flow
required to create a 40 minute runway show that may or may not be
a success, means that fashion houses cannot rely on Haute Couture
for their main income.
To make profits, couture houses have real need
for the diversion of branding to produce ready to wear and
fashion goods with more realistic price tags for the majority,
rather than exclusive pricing for a minority. Haute Couture is likely to stay
merely as a marketing tool since it's the enhanced cachet of
brand association with it, that really does capture the public's
imagination and which will help the remaining few couture houses
to survive in the 21st century.
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