Couture (pronounced koo TOOR) sewing is that time honored method, of mostly hand and little machine sewing, used by design houses, couturiers, and custom tailors to create made-to-measure exclusive garments of individual art and unique beauty. Techniques that identify a garment as such use details of fit, influential color considerations, refined fashion design, exquisite textiles, impeccable construction techniques and sophisticated surface elements.
Haute couture (pronounced oht koo TOOR) is the French phrase for high fashion – haute meaning elegant, and couture referring to sewing or needlework. Its word-fashion opposite would be ready-to-wear manufactured garments. Some of the notable and established fashion houses today associated with haute couture are Balmain, Chanel, Christian Dior, Christian Lacroix, Emanuel Ungaro, Givenchy, Louis Feraud, and Yves Saint Laurent. Few among us in the world can afford such exquisite indulgence and high art fashioned from cloth and needle.
As sewers we can however use elements of couture sewing to enhance our garments and add a sense of style and sophistication. There are few ‘secrets’ to couture sewing, for some of its elements are well known such as fitting and perfecting a muslin copy, using elegant luxurious fabrics, decorative techniques and embellishments, as well as beautiful-to-behold inner garment construction methods that are inherent to the overall garment design.
Couture decorative embellishments can include all types of beading, embroidery, trapunto, ruching, or appliqué. For garment construction the finishing of seams and hems receive as much attention as the fashion fabric itself. Finishing techniques can include hand-sewn bound buttonholes, hand-finished seam edges, hand-sewn linings and boning to name just a few.
Garments sewn using a couture method can be both classic and trendy, with an eye to timeless style and certainly perfect fit. While there is nothing quick and easy about this method of garment construction - considering all its painstaking hand-sewing elements and embellishments, nothing bargain-priced in the selection of fabrics, and making the garment’s inside seams, hems, and lining just as beautiful to behold as the outside finished elements - there is satisfaction in that final moment that comes as the end result of finishing a challenging sewing project, a sewing denouement if you will, a delicious sense of contentment.
To see some fascinating couture construction techniques read the Inside Secrets of a Chanel Jacket available in the October/November 2005 issue (#121) of Threads magazine.
From The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Timeline of Art History
Sew happy, sew inspired.