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Origins of the Fashion Industry


Up to the 13th Century, dress was a form of national costume.  It was not until the late 13th century, that France emerged as an important centre of culture and learning.  It was during the reign of Louis XIV otherwise known as the Sun King, that the expansion of French Culture was encouraged as part of his scheme for political domination of Europe.

First Leaders of Fashion

Madam de Pompadour was the mistress of Louis XIV and was one of the first leaders of Fashion.  Her name Pompadour later became a name for a fabric.

Marie Antoinette was the wife of Louis XIV and her wardrobe occupied three rooms of the Palace of Versailles. Marie was Queen of France until her execution in 1793 and her love for fashion ultimately lead to her death, as at the beginning of the French Revolution, instead of fleeing independently, Marie insisted she take as many of her gowns with her, slowing her down and leading to her capture. {mosimage}

Rose Bertin was the first name in fashion design and designed clothes for Louis XIV.  Rose created the first ever fashion dolls, as instead of sending full size garments to her many customers around the world, she would send miniature dolls dressed in her designs.  Louis XIV later declared her the minister of fashion.

Early Trend Setters

After the French Revolution, Robspierre created the ‘Reign of Terror’which was introduced to haze the divide between rich and poor people.  Clothing became plain and peasant like, with the plain style being enhanced by the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte I from 1795, which ushered the Director period.

L.H Leroy chose to design clothes for the Empress Josephine and this was the introduction of the so-called Empire Look which was inspired by Neo-Classical forms.

The Dandy

George Beau Brummel was a gentleman of leisure and the Prince of good grooming and he established How a man should dress.  He was the first man in Britain to have a bath everyday and he sent new standards in the art of dressing.

A man’s clothing had to be wrinkle free and the Regency style became popular.  This style was the introduction to below the knee trousers, boots, a tail coat, which had to be blue or black and a cravat. 

Beau Brummel identified three categories Beaus, Spivs and Macaronis.

The “macaronis” appeared in England during the mid-18th century. They were dandies affecting an Italian-inspired fashion, colouring their cheeks with rouge and wearing diamond-studded pumps, and cravats with huge bows.

The Spiv was a person, who was without employment and made money by various dubious schemes, they dress smartly and having a good time.

The Beau was a similar name to the Dandy and was a man who was concerned with his dress and appearance.  The word Beau originated from France and had similar meaning to the Latin word Bel, which means handsome.


Saville Row and Henry Poole

Henry Poole was the first millionaire designer and was the official court tailor to Napoleon III.  Both of these men helped to establish Britain as having a distinction for fine tailoring and menswear.

Establishing Haute Couture

Charles Frederick Worth was the founder of haute couture and was the official designer to Empress Eugenie.

Worth used no advertising in his work, but prepared a coloured portfolio for each customer.  He would use live Mannequins to display his work and he selected and supplied fabrics for the designs.

The Rules of Haute Couture

The right to be called a couturier is in the gift of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne and you are only officially recognised as a couturier when your name is added to the Couture-Creation list.

Couturiers must maintain at least one atelier (workshop) in Paris, which must employ at least 15 full time technical staff and this is not including the director.

All work must be by hand and undertaken in house except for specialist skills like beading and embroidery. 

Larger Ateliers are divided into flou, which is dressmaking and tailleur which is tailoring suits and coats.  Modelistes, who work under the director, liaise with the atelier and oversee the construction of the toile.  The prenier atelier oversees the workforce of:

Couture clothing must be entirely made to measure and there is to be no partial cutting of fabrics or assembling of parts until the client has been measured.  Sketches for couture clothing may only be made by the house designer.  Garments shown in the collection must remain exactly as they were designed and they may not be altered in any way to suit a particular client.

Haute Couture shows happen twice a year and are usually in the last week of January and July.  Each show has a minimum of 65 garments and they must be shown on live models.  There is free exposure for couture designers on French state run TV and the French government will pay all expenses for a couture designer which wishes to show overseas.

The Average cost for a single couture collection is $1.5 million, which is all at a loss.  Couture garments can cost anything between $5,000 and $100,000 depending on style and materials.  Research shows there are only 1,000 women in the world who can afford couture.  It is extremely rare for more than one client to order the same model garment.  If you can afford couture, the chance of seeing someone wear the same outfit is extremely rare.

Rise of Pret-a-Porter

By the 1960’s couture was unprofitable and by 1977 all designers on the couture creation list except for Madame Gres was producing ready-to-wear collections.  The loses designers faced from couture offset against profits from ready-to-wear, which included fragrances, cosmetics and licensed products.

Rachel Costa

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