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Understand Haute Couture Through Its 6 Most Prominent Fashion Houses

Style

May 17, 2023

Is high fashion an art? Is it a waste of time? The Oxford Dictionary calls this phenomenon 'expensive and fashionable clothes produced by leading fashion houses.

' Still, it's so much more than that. High fashion is an art form complete with intensive demographic and background studies to follow and predict trends. Modern-day designers will be studied for years to come through their intricate works.

The world writes off fashion as a useless way for the wealthy to spend extra money, and I want to change that. Read on to understand the origins of high fashion, learn about famous fashion houses, and more.

The Beginnings

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Charles Frederick Worth was the first fashion designer and the man who coined that title. In 1858, Worth decided to create a unique store, one of something we now call haute couture. This French phrase translates to 'high dressmaking' and was Worth's idea of a step in a new direction.

He created luxury dresses, by hand, for only the wealthiest Parisian women. Clients decided which items of his collection they enjoyed after viewing them on live models, a surprising idea at the time. One decade later, haute couture was taking the privileged by storm. Worth created 'The Chambre Syndicale De La Confection Et De La Couture Pour Dames Et Fillettes,' an association to prevent the copy of high-end designs.

By 1945, this association had set regulations, and the protection of haute couture was all the more important. Fashion houses began drastically dropping in numbers due to these strict guidelines, leaving only the most prestigious. Christian Dior started his 'New Look' collection in the late 1940s, and fashion flourished. In 1966, the first freestanding couture boutique was opened by none other than Yves Saint Laurent and then followed by several other popular designers.

The Golden Era

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While high fashion is still thriving, the golden era has unfortunately passed. Christian Dior claimed that the golden age was in the 1940s and 50s, but I'm afraid I have to disagree. The 1990s were when haute couture was at its peak.

Our favorite houses were established and thriving in the industry while many were still doing biannual runway shows. Chanel was under the care of former creative director Karl Lagerfeld and was having its tweed moment. Gianni Versace was still alive and creating masterpieces, with faces like Devon Aoki and Naomi Campbell fronting their runways.

This brings me to my next point, the modeling industry, though incredibly toxic, was filled to the brim with real supermodels. Kate Moss, Shalom Harlow, and Cindy Crawford were constantly seen strutting the catwalk. They brought the pieces to life in a way that modern-day models fail to do.

Houses

I've talked a lot about fashion houses, vaguely mentioning a few specific brands. However, what are the brands taking the world by storm? Which designers do you need to know?

What makes them unique? I've picked out the fashion houses that encapsulate modern haute couture. These brands often appear on our phone screens, high-end runways, and on our favorite celebrities.

Versace

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My personal favorite fashion house, Versace, has been in the spotlight since the 1980s. In 1978, Gianni Versace launched his original clothing line from Milan, Italy. By 1989, Versace was one of few couture brands, securing it a place in the industry.

The company expanded into beauty and fragrance lines, all very expensive and desirable. Like many designers, new clothing lines were launched and shown off at biannual runway shows categorized by season. In the late 90s, Versace was one of the most sought-after brands and was seen on almost every red carpet. However, in 1997, Gianni Versace was assassinated, and the creative director title was passed onto Donnatella Versace, Gianni's sister.

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Now, let's talk about Versace's signature style, specifically, 'THAT dress.' 'THAT dress' is known in the fashion world as being from one of Versace's most edgy collections, Spring 1994. It's one of the most iconic dresses to date, first seen on Helena Christensen and then famously on Elizabeth Hurley.

Hurley wore the safety-pin accented dress to the Four Weddings and a Funeral premiere, and the world fell in love. Since then, the dress has recently been remastered on the 2019 Versace Pre-Fall Runway.

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Versace's look is one of the boldest of the major fashion houses. As pictured above, Gianni Versace loved gold detailing, seen in the safety pins of 'THAT dress' or the vest of Naomi Campbell on the 1992 Fall/Winter runway. His prints ranged from Baroque-inspired to tropical fabrics.

He used colors in a way that many shied away from, and bright, clashing colors covered his runways, making some of his most iconic looks. In addition, one of the most well-known Versace runways was the 'Miss S and M,' or 'Bondage' runway from 1992. Leather, buckles, and skin studded the runway as a homage to female sexuality. The brand is anything but predictable and shows a new side every season.

Chanel

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Chanel, another brand incredibly popular with teens, has been around for over a century. It all started with Coco Chanel opening a hat shop in Paris, France. This shop expanded into a clothing boutique, and then another, and by 1920, was a large fashion house.

They created the iconic Chanel No. 5 perfume and released collections filled with tweed and gold detailing. Women's suits became the style in the 1950s and were started by Chanel.

After Coco Chanel passed away, the brand was revitalized by Karl Lagerfeld, who revamped the dying house. He tightened and shortened the suits, made the style more modern, and still managed to pay homage to the original creations.

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The idea of a Chanel Bride started with Lagerfeld's love of bridalwear. Above, Claudia Schiffer wears the haute couture autumn-winter 93-94 bridal dress to close the show. Schiffer is known as one of the faces of Chanel, appearing in several runway shows and as the iconic bride an unprecedented eleven times.

Lagerfeld designed this dress, and it was recently seen on Sofia Richie Grainge. It's one of the most iconic Chanel looks to date, with the early 1990s being the peak of the brand.

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Chanel is still making gorgeous outfits in the style of Coco Chanel. This tweed two-piece was shown on Adut Akech Bior as part of the Fall-Winter 23-24 Ready-To-Wear collection. While she was dressed in shorts instead of a skirt, several other models were shown in designs practically identical to those of the early 20th Century.

Karl Lagerfeld's death left a hole in Chanel, but sticking to their roots is one of the best ideas they've had in a while. The nostalgia paired with edgy accessories gives us hope for the brand's future.

Gucci

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Gucci is one of the oldest Haute Couture brands, founded in 1921 by Guccio Gucci. It began as a shop to sell leather goods in Florence, Italy. He slowly integrated other types of material.

He played with shapes and patterns in his bags and sold originals in 1937. After the opening of the Rome shop, Gucci created more accessories. As the house grew, he developed the iconic double-G logo with red and green stripes.

Florence developed around this symbol and this company, making Gucci essential to its culture. Only a few months after Gucci's death, his brand moved across the seas to the United States and later to London. Stores began popping up in every corner until Dawn Mello strategically limited them. She revitalized the Gucci moccasin and bamboo bag, staples in the house's collection.

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While still considered a fashion house, Gucci is most famous for its accessories rather than clothes. The luxury leather and canvas goods have been staples in fashion icons' wardrobes. Above is one of Gucci's more famous designs.

The Horsebit 1955 Shoulder Bag is a remastered design from, you guessed it, 1955. This design is equestrian-inspired and comes in several colors, one of which is beige and brown, patterned with the Gucci logo. The double ring and bar design is essential to the brand's style and appears in several of its accessories, from bags to shoes. The timeless bag remains popular to this date and isn't expected to fall victim to a crash in sales anytime soon.

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Even though I said Gucci is known for their accessories rather than clothes, that doesn't mean they haven't styled some incredible looks. The fashion house dressed Jenna Ortega for her 2023 Golden Globes appearance, and she looked phenomenal. The dress was from the spring/summer 2023 collection, nicknamed 'Twinsburg' for its dual-appearing models. In addition, the Italian fashion label famously styles musician Harry Styles, who has had some knockout outfits in the last few years.

Prada

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In 1913, the House of Prada was born. Mario and Martino Prada founded the brand in Milan in a store selling leather goods like bags and travel accessories, similar to Gucci. The store remained small but moderately popular for six years.

In 1919, the Italian Royal Family publically deemed Prada their Official Supplier, and business exploded. After Mario, the primary owner, died, his daughter took control of the company. After 20 years, Luisa's daughter took control of the company, and modern Prada's foundation was laid.

Miuccia developed nylon bags in the late 1970s, a shoe line in 1984, and a Ready-to-Wear collection in 1988. Prada became more than a leather business and truly imprinted itself into the fashion world.

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There have been several alterations, materials, and updates to the bag. Still, the classic Prada handbag is at the very heart of the brand. It was first sold in 1985 during the shift from travel accessories to fashion.

It was made of Pocono, a nylon type, and was utterly unique to the brand. Above is one of my favorite versions of the bag, rivaled only by the 2005 edition. It keeps the classic shape while simplifying the look even further with clean lines and a simple strap.

This was released in the Spring-Summer collection of 2021, an interesting group of clothing with even more interesting bags. Prada makes its bags in nylon material as well as sleek leather.

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Another critical aspect of Prada is its footwear. The brand has a wide range of shoes, from heels to sneakers. The most iconic, however, is the loafer.

This fashion house currently sells 27 types of loafers and has several that cannot be bought on the website. The first Prada loafer was released in 1996 and has been a favorite ever since. Recently, Jenna Ortega wore the brushed leather Monolith loafers in the show 'Wednesday,' bringing another round of popularity to the famous shoe. The Prada loafers are one of the best designs from the 1990s and are only getting better with time.

Louis Vuitton

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Not to be confused with the other luxury brand, Louboutin, Louis Vuitton began over a century ago in Paris, France. In 1854, designer Louis Vuitton made leather trunks for Napoleon III's wife, giving him an edge in the leather competition. Like Gucci and Prada, this designer made high-end bags at the beginning of his career.

His creations were known for being incredibly lightweight, a sought-after element of travelware. In 1896, Vuitton's sons created the iconic logo for the brand, one that is now plastered throughout celebrities' wardrobes. The brand started its career in fashion after Coco Chanel commissioned the first Louis Vuitton handbag, the Alma.

It wasn't until 1997 that Louis Vuitton stuck its foot into clothing, with Marc Jacobs beginning a Ready-to-Wear collection. After that, it was jewelry, runways, and bags upon bags; Louis Vuitton has never looked back.

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Like two other famous fashion houses, Louis Vuitton can be defined by an iconic bag. We see celebrities holding these brown and beige bags all the time in paparazzi photos. In airports, magazines, and retail stores, Louis Vuitton logo-ed suitcases and duffel bags are everywhere, and for a good reason.

They match any outfit and have an element of luxury that few can achieve. The Louis Vuitton Horizon collection is partially shown above, the newest variation of the bags. They're both practical and gorgeous, making the fashion house a leader in the industry.

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Louis Vuitton seamlessly transitioned from bags to fashion with famous ambassadors and models. Every year, the luxury brand sticks to its roots while experimenting, making every runway exciting. Recently, the house has been focused on classic French styles.

With clean lines and Earth tones, these collections have been widely celebrated. The Fall-Winter 2023 runway recently premiered in March this year. Suits and shorts were found at the center of the designs. We're psyched to see what Louis Vuitton has in store next: a new take on a handbag or a new must-buy outfit.

Dior

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This luxury French brand was created in 1946 by Christian Dior. He wanted to create a label dedicated to femininity and classic fashion. The first Dior collection debuted in 1947 and was revolutionary for the European style.

This is known as the 'New Look' collection, one of the most historically famous. Christian Dior moved against the ordinary wartime clothing seen, usually more masculine and practical, and made designs emphasizing a tiny waist and curves. This 'womanly silhouette' moved across seas where it became the look synonymous with the United States in the 1950s.

These ideals are now considered incredibly outdated and misogynistic. Still, these designs were stepping stones to modern clothing as we know it.

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Dior has had its fair share of memorable pieces. However, my personal favorite is this mind-blowing dress from 1949. It is named 'Junon' after the Greek goddess Hera.

Christian Dior designed the dress, and it resides in the Costume Institute at the New York Metropolitan Museum of the Arts, the Met. He used his signature gray color to construct the silken dress and then beads, sequins, and thread to create the petal look. The dress has a slight train at the back, giving it an asymmetrical appearance. Junon is a work of art and one of the best pieces of clothing to come out of haute couture.

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Decades later, Dior is still one of the most iconic brands. The beauty line is exceptionally crafted, with coveted products like the lip oil taking the world by storm. While they have updated their sexist ideals, the fashion house retains its delicate style.

Classic, simple prints paired with nostalgic silhouettes make Dior what it is. Their ambassadors, such as Elle Fanning, have a very soft look, making them look perfectly at home in the designs. From perfume to makeup to dresses, Dior has been in the spotlight for 80 years and doesn't look like it's going anywhere.

The Supermodel

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You can't discuss fashion without mentioning the supermodel. The 1990s were full of iconic people walking the runway. It was a toxic industry, with eating disorders rampant and an unhealthy body image spreading from the fitting rooms to a young audience.

This is why we can never, and should never, see the return of the true supermodel. However, we cannot ignore how synonymous the fashion industry is with models. Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, and Linda Evangelista brought light to some of the most beautiful designs created.

Their walks became an identity, and their magazine covers were plastered on every corner. It is agreed upon that Gisele Bündchen is the last true supermodel, with her peak in the early 2010s.

Haute couture has been in our world for over a century, and it makes fashion what it is. Over the last 100 years, we have seen the rise and fall of several luxury brands. Only a few have been able to work their way to the top of the industry.

Several high-end designers, many more than the ones I listed in the article, create gorgeous pieces. Overall, high fashion is not just overly expensive clothes; it is a way for many to express themselves. It is an art form that should be studied, as every artist has their own unique approach. I hope this article gave you a better idea of the high fashion industry and sparked an interest in clothing.

Nora Wagner
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Nora Wagner is a 16-year-old American international student based in England. At a young age, she developed a passion for music and fashion and, since then, has loved reading and writing about them. Nora enjoys playing instruments, reading, and shopping with her friends in her free time.

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