Confession: sometimes I feel about haute couture the way I feel about those magnificent Gilded Age mansions in Newport, Rhode Island. Yes, they're beautiful, but you don't need to study them to build yourself a perfectly lovely split-level ranch house.
And their very existence reflects obscene levels of economic inequality that never bode well for societies in the long run (and which we're dealing with again today).
That said, it's hard not to be drawn into the glamour, the beauty, and the exquisite workmanship of haute couture. Like the old Hollywood studios, the great couture houses brought together artists and craftsmen who represented the pinnacle of their respective fields: textile designers, embroiderers, lace makers, milliners, etc. Unlike the movie studios, however, whose product, no matter how elaborate, was created specifically for the masses, haute couture was (and is) for the economic elite, and if we can enjoy it today it's because many of these luxurious creations are in museums.
Which brings me to The Golden Age of Couture: Paris & London 1947-57. I've been holding onto this library book for nearly six months now and never got around to reading it. Alas, someone has put it on reserve and I must return it by early October, so it's now or never. And what a gorgeous book this is.
If you like stunning photographs of sumptuous vintage fashion (gowns in particular), you'll love this coffee table-sized book. The writing, much of it by Claire Wilcox, the Senior Curator of Twentieth Century and Contemporary Fashion at the V&A, and curator of the show this book was written to accompany, is superb -- which isn't always the case for books of this type. If you're interested in the history of couture and the intricate web of relationships -- both artistic and economic -- that supported it during its Golden Age, here's the book for you. (You can find paperback copies of it for sale here -- hardcover copies have gotten alarmingly expensive.)
You can see more than fifty photographs from The Golden Age of Couturehere.
I made an interesting discovery reading this book. The fabric I used to make Cathy's rose print dress, which was labeled "Ascher Studios," (and for which I paid $2/yd) is actually a recreation of a Zika Ascher fabric designed by Cecil Beaton! (Ascher supplied fabric to Christian Dior and to other couturiers, and commissioned many contemporary artists to create his designs. More about Ascher Studios here.)
This is also an Ascher Studios print, btw:
I think the term couture is one of the most over-used in the fashion and home-sewing world, and often applied to anything made with a modicum of hand sewing. There's nothing wrong with something being just home-sewn, right? And haute couture, in France at least, refers to a very specific set of rules and and relationships, dictated by the government itself.
Readers, in closing, what's your feeling about haute couture?
Do you find it breathtaking and inspirational or decadent and deadly dull? Are you more focused on just making a pair of jeans that fit than on recreating vintage Dior?
I'm a native New Yorker and sewing fanatic! I started sewing in 2009 and today make all my own clothes using vintage sewing machines and vintage patterns, in addition to sewing for private clients. Welcome to the warm and whimsical world of Male Pattern Boldness, where the conversation is sewing, style, fashion, fabric, and more!