Parisian Haute Couture

Between 1860 and 1960 the Parisian High Fashion (Haute Couture) gave a new idea of fashion. Behind the poetic facade there were high-skilled professionals and complex production facilities, generating a universe of dreams, made by excellent, artistic and high-quality products.

Here I describe the first 100 years of this history; a century of tough decisions, business strategies and artisanal work.

1858 Charles Frederick Worth, considered the first couturier, founded a company with Gustav Bobergn, called “Maison special de confection”, at 7 Rue de la Paix.

1868 Foundation of the “Chambre syndacale de la couture”, who gathered all the taylors for women’s fashion.

1897 In order to take care of couturier’s clothes and ideas and to make sure that they stay secret  until the runway show, Raudnitz decided to establish a commune date, on which every Atelier had to submit their collections to the public.

1911 The “Chambre syndacale de la couture” was established at 6 Rue d’Aboukir. Only the Ateliers enrolled could take part to the runway shows calendar and take advantage of the sponsors.

1928 The foreign Ateliers could be enrolled to the association, but only if their fashion directors were from Germany and Austria. The others had to be born in France, or better in Paris.

1930 Due to economic reasons the number of clothes composing a couture collection were reduced from 400 to 100. The Ateliers which couldn’t afford it were classified as “demi-couture”.

1934 Lucien Lelong created the first “Special Edition” collection, besides the couture collection.

1942 The number of clothes of each collection was reduced to 75.

1944 Foundation of the “Fédération nationale de la Couture”.  Jacques Heim is the first to sign an agreement with the American company Junior League, exporting the ready-to wear label “Heim Jeunes Filles”

1945 The Ateliers were invited to present in Paris their unique and exclusive creations twice a year. The autumn-winter and the spring-summer collections with no less then 75 pieces each and they were presented at fixed dates. The runway shows took place inside the Ateliers and had to be repeated for 45 times a year. Every  single creation had to be worn by a model and it was allowed to have only three models for an entire collection.

1948 Christian Dior opened a store on 5th Avenue in  New York, selling luxury ready-to-wear, while Jacques Fath signed a contract with Joseph Halpert to export his ready-to-wear collection in the USA.

1949 Christian Dior signed a license agreement to sell ties in American department stores; Jacques Fath and Rochas sold some patterns (dresses and coats) to Mendes, who could reproduce them exclusively for their boutique.

1950 Jean Lanvin and Marcel Dhorme founded together the first company specialized in selling the ready-to-wear licenses of the most important parisian couturier (Jacques Fath, Robert Piguet, Paquin, Carven and Jean Dessès)

1951 Raymond Barbas, Chambre Syndacale de la Couture’s president, asked the government to finance the couture’s collections, making a plan for buying textiles.

1952 The Italian government provided to the Italian luxury brands of the time the Sala Bianca, inside Palazzo Pitti in Florence, in order to attract the international press, so the first high fashion Italian runway shows took place, competing with the French fashion shows.

1956 Jean Dessès opened his first boutique at the Galeries Lafayette.

1957 The ready-to-wear collections gained the same importance as the couture collections. The Ateliers taking part at this decision of the “Chambre syndacale de la mode” were Carven, Grès, Madeleine de Rauch, Nina Ricci, Maggy Rouff, Lanvin, Dessès, Jaque Griffe, Jacques Heim, Guy Laroche.


This is the first 100 years of the history of Parisian Haute Couture; in the next part of the series we’ll look at the second part of the last century and recent years to complete the timeline of the history of the greatest couture shows we witness today.