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The Story Behind A Chanel Haute Couture Piece

The biggest takeaway isn't just the finished piece. Every minuscule detail to the entire experience goes towards making your very own, made-to-measure creation so special.
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Many of us are familiar with the concept of ready-to-wear collections that show twice a year. An article of clothing like that may only take a few hours to cut and sew with the help of machinery, and can be easily produced by the hundreds. But, in this process, the craftsmanship and artistry of high-end dressmaking is more often than not lost – though it’s not fair to assume this across the board – and is something that haute couture houses strive to preserve.

What exactly is haute couture, you may ask? It’s not always flamboyant gowns or exaggerated designs made for a gala. It’s really about the technique. The measures taken to create a custom-fitted design with highly-skilled artisans that takes hundreds or thousands of laborious hours to finish. 

The words haute couture isn’t one that can be loosely tossed around. To be officially certified as a haute couture house, you have to go pass strict criteria set by the Fédération Française de la couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode that governs who deserves the right to use the label. Some of these include: to design made-to-order with one or more fittings, to have an atelier that hires 15 full-time staff, to have at least 20 full-time technical staff, and to present a collection of at least 50 original designs to the public twice a year. Now, there’s your daily factoid dose.

Besides the technicality behind an haute couture house, the designs that stems from each collection aren’t just another design. As the creative director, you’re given free reign to design as you please. There are no boundaries, nothing deemed “too crazy”. It’s the time where the exploration of materials and techniques are fully maximised. Be it laser-cut wood, an embroidered dress made from a hundred thousand sequins, or 3D-printed fabrics, everything is possible in the realm of haute couture. 

You may not be able to immediately distinguish an haute couture piece from a ready-to-wear garment. But once you see it up close, you’ll instantly understand the difference. Whether it’s the buttons created in the same manner as costume jewellery, the choice of materials, or the handsewn inner seams, an haute couture piece is a fine work of art that is equivalent to one in a museum.

The fun part about it all isn’t just the end product. Going through the process is an experience that sticks with you forever. To start, you pick a design from a collection you like, which can either be current season or from the archives. You then move on to the fittings with the seamstresses, which can take place anywhere in the world. (Yes, even if you’re in the Swiss Alps.) A mannequin is made from your measurements in the Paris Rue Cambon Atelier, and you’re given the option to alter sleeves or hems to your preferred length.

Being able to view the Spring/Summer 2019 Haute Couture creations up close and personal is a privilege in itself. This time, Grand Palais transforms into a Mediterranean garden, complete with a pool and house. The 18th century theme dreams up flowers made from feathers, ceramics, embroidery, resin and even as hair jewels.

The numbers might sound hard to believe, but one dress can take as long as 350 hours, and made out of more than 2000 beads. Each collection also ends with a bridal look, this time in an unconventional, fully embroidered swimsuit, complete with a swimming cap and an attached veil.

Anyone can order a couture piece with anyone at the store. It’s uphill from there on. When you’re given the full Chanel treatment, it’s not one you’ll forget.

What To Read Next: Nicholas Ghesquière and His Idiosyncratic Vision of The EightiesAll My Fashion Week Looks – The #PFW Edition and The Best Street Style Looks From Milan Fashion Week | Images: Chanel, Natalyn Chan, Cover Image: Natalyn Chan

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