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When it comes to high fashion, haute couture is the pinnacle of it all. It's the highest form of fashion design, one of, if not the most exclusive luxury market, and the foundation of the fashion industry as the world sees it today. For more than a century, the city of Paris has maintained its tradition, relying on some of the biggest fashion brands in the world. These select few, recognized by the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture, have greatly influenced fashion throughout the years. Their impact spans generations and they continue to inspire the industry to this day.
The Chanel suit isn't just a Parisian style staple. It's practically the foundation of what became the modern French style. Back in the 1900s, when Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel first founded her eponymous couture house, fashion was dominated by corsets, crinolines, and outlandish yet constricting styles. It was the fashion icon's revolutionary haute couture that allowed for freer silhouettes, least constraints on the body, and uplifted simplicity above everything else. It laid out a more casual aesthetic, setting the stage for all the trends that happened throughout the 20th century and today. To this day, Chanel couture remains founded on these very principles, further proving that the 'Chanel look' is truly timeless.
One of the fiercest rivalries in haute couture history was that of Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli. Both designers dominated the Parisian fashion scene in the 1920s and 30s yet their styles couldn't be further apart from each other. As Chanel championed simplicity and minimal elegance, Schiaparelli established surrealist style in fashion. From dresses with embellished lobsters to shockingly pink hues that predated the neon craze of the 1980s, Schiaparelli put forth such feasts for the eyes. Her most iconic works looked more at home in museums than they did in the backs of socialites and royals. But her legacy lives on, especially with the revival of her brand in recent years.
Source: Schiaparelli YouTube Channel
Did you know that when Christian Dior first started his maison in 1947, he initially became one of the most hated men on the planet? His 'New Look' undoubtedly revolutionized fashion, but that didn't mean that everyone was up for the said revolution. As he launched his label in the post-World War II era, his frivolous designs needed more fabrics, which were scarce at the time. This didn't sit well with the general public, most of whom couldn't even afford his designs. But over time, this French designer brand’s signatures, including nipped waists, full skirts, embellished gowns, and fairytale-like frocks became the norm. Even to this very day!
Source: Christian Dior YouTube Channel
Jean Paul Gaultier
Jean Paul Gaultier, both the designer and the brand, are humorous, provocative, and undeniably French. Back in the late 1970s, at a time when haute couture was dominated by established houses, Jean Paul Gaultier tore down its elegant traditions and made way for tongue-in-cheek looks, outrageous gimmicks, and even a few political styles on the runway. He embraced sex, punk, deconstruction, and avant-garde over the years, becoming the most forward-looking couturier in Paris for a time. Needless to say, not all of his collections were well-received. But rest assured, they were talked about and continue to influence fashion today.
Source: Jean Paul Gaultier YouTube Channel
If there's one haute couture house that continually champions timeless elegance, it's Valentino. Although the designer himself is Italian, he actually started his career in Paris, first, by apprenticing under countless grand couturiers, and then eventually opening his own shop in the late 1950s. And while he returned to Italy for a while in the 1960s, he remains a notable mainstay in Paris haute couture. He even continued on working until 2008 which, by that time, was already his 45th anniversary in the industry. Today. the Valentino couture house still stands strong with Pierpaolo Piccioli at the helm. He has continued the eponymous founder's sophisticated legacy.
Source: Valentino YouTube Channel
Although Armani is an Italian designer brand through and through, Giorgio himself opened up a couture house in Paris back in the early 2000s. Eventually, it became one of the most notable shows on the Paris Fashion Week calendar every year. It helps that the maestro was able to expertly translate his iconic brand of strict tailoring with haute couture craftsmanship, putting forth collection after collection of finely-cut suits and eye-catching red carpet dresses. Thanks to his faithful celebrity clientele, Armani Privé became one of the premiere couture labels in the French capital.
Source: Armani YouTube Channel
Angelina Jolie, Halle Berry, Taylor Swift, Jennifer Lopez, and Katy Perry. These are just some of the big names that have famously worn Elie Saab on the red carpet. Year after year, be it at the Academy Awards, the Cannes Film Festival, and beyond, fashion-lovers anticipate which A-list star would rock an Elie Saab haute couture creation on the red carpet. It was through his well-embellished and sparkling works that interest in what was once a dying art form rose up again. Such is the impact of this Lebanese designer in the Paris haute couture scene.
Source: Elie Saab YouTube Channel
Haute couture remains the pinnacle of fashion thanks to these legendary houses. These designer brands continue the legacy of the art form, the craftsmanship, and the quality of what it truly means to be 'high fashion.'
Dressing up in haute couture from these iconic designers will make you look grand, even if you're just lounging in your luxury home in Paris!