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 Chambre Syndicale

Chambre Syndicale
Fashion History

By Pauline Weston Thomas for

Chambre Syndicale Fashion History


Brief History of Haute Couture

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 designs.

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 fashionable.

Worth Founds the First Chambre Syndicale in 1868

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. 

The Chambre Syndicale De La Haute Couture 20th Century

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.

The Decline of Couture Houses

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.


What is the Chambre Syndicale De La Couture?

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 industry.

Chambre Syndicale De La Couture Paris School

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 houses.

Strict Rules to Become a Couture House

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 television.

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 Syndicale. 

Inspiration for Buyers at a Price


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 trims. 

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. 

Will Haute Couture Survive the 21st Century?

Exclusivity means enhanced value to the status conscious consumer, whilst overuse of a brand devalues it, making it worthless.

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 corseted clothes. 

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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