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The book Paris Haute Couture is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in fashion, past and present


The curators of the fantastic Paris Haute Couture exhibition at Paris Hôtel de Ville between the March, 2 and July, 6 2013, Olivier Saillard and Anne Zazzo – respectively Director and Head Heritage Curator at the Galliera museum – are the co-editor of the exhibition marvellous catalogue. With beautiful photography by Katerina Jebb and written contributions by fashion critics and historians, this 288 pages book is a lot more than a mere catalogue; a very precisely constructed retrospective, it is a scholarly reference and a beautiful coffee table book.

Three versions of the book are available today: in French, a softback and, echoing in its design the care and attention given to haute couture garment, a luxury edition and in English, a hardback edition. The French Luxury version of the book won, alongside Corinne Trovarelli, the person responsible for its production at publisher Skira/Flammarion, the Grand prix du Jury de la Nuit du Livre 2013.


The Galliera Museum is famous, not only for the work done to preserve its incredible collection of garments but also for the efforts made when presenting them in exhibitions, books and on stage. The Impossible Wardrobe created in 2012 by Olivier Saillard, saw Tilda Swinton re-act on stage, the minute gestures of the fashion archivists. The performance was filmed by Katerina Jebb, who was invited back to photograph of the garments featured in Paris Haute Couture. On a tight scale of grey backgrounds, her square images, often cutting into the garments, presented either on a mannequin or lying flat, are beautiful, intimate and timeless. Her carefully selected close-ups give an insight into the craftsmanship involved in these creations.

Two articles by Olivier Saillard, introduce respectively Swaroski and Haute Couture.

Swarovski, a contributor to the Parisian exhibition, has been since 1895 a supplier of fine crystals to the fashion industry. The founder of the company collaborated with Frederick Worth, commonly regarded today as the father of haute couture. Five generations later, the crystal manufacturer still plays a prevalent role the industry. The use of Swarovski crystals as surface decoration traditionally requires hours of hand work; they provide garments with qualities we have we come to expect of couture gowns.

In his second introduction, Olivier Saillard explains his understanding of what makes haute couture and what may remain of it today. He concludes: Haute couture…should reveal the value of time. The expenditure of time is the most precious legacy, to be treasured far more than taffeta fabric or feathered trim. A day dress from the legendary atelier of a great fashion house or a modest frock stitched by a young girl with pins still in the lining – both are haute couture of the highest order.

Like the exhibition, the book focuses on each decades between the late 1800s and the 1970s; each is attributed a very consistent total of 32 pages, 3 articles (with one exception for the 1940s) and a photo album of 20 pages (one exception here too, the 1960-70s section has an extra page!) with 18 images each! Each section home in particular points, significant then and that often still help define the industry today. Furthermore Parisian haute couture has developed many techniques still used in apparel and commercial practices common in the fashion industry today.

Late 1800s: Fabric and Dress Making

Francoise Tetart-Vittu sets the scene with a concise history of the emergence of haute couture. She explains: Parisian Couture was renowned as early as the seventeenth century, when the expertise of the capitals craftsmen became widely admired in European royal courts, a time when Frances literary and artistic influences was also becoming widespread. As dressmaker and milliner to Marie Antoinette, Marie-Jeanne Bertin elevated the reputation of Parisian fashion to an international level. Following the French revolution, new structures allowed the fashion trade to flourish and diversify. Following in the footsteps of Mlle Bertin, Louis Hippolyte LeRoy achieved comparable prominence between 1804 and1822.

He was the true father of haute couture before the early events of the twentieth century and conferred it on Charles Frederick Worth.


From as early as 1780 shoes, hats and mass-production articles had borne an identifying inscription which we know today as label. Emmanuelle Serriere contribution shows fine examples of original labels from Jeanne Lanvin, Charles Frederic Worth, Paul Poiret, etc. up to one dated 2003, hand sawn for Maurizio Galante.

–       The Origins of Haute Couture – by Francoise Tetart-Vittu
–       The Couturier and His Clients in the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century – by Alexandra Bosc
–       The Invention of the Label – by Emmanuelle Serriere

1900: The Tailors Studio

In the early 20th century, industrial developments significantly affected haute couture and its structures. This section takes a closer look at how couturiers established themselves in that era, at the development in their studios, the evolution within their workforce and the emergence of mannequins and shop windows.

–       Sophisticated and Industrious Paris – by Anne Zazzo
–       The Client, the Couturier and the Flower: Interweaving Inspirations – by Damien Delille
–       The Dressmaker’s Mannequin – by Charlotte Piot

1910: Creating the Brands

This section looks into the emergence of commercial techniques and practices such as fashion catalogue and brand image. Paul Poiret did not apply his creative skills solely to garment design; he was also a fine marketer, a couturier playing courtier. The special relationship he developed with his most favoured clients could be seen to inform today relationship between designers and clients with the use of a fan base as a promotional tool. The development in the 1910s of branded perfumes has had a significant impact on the industry: today fragrances significantly contribute to the profit of the major fashion houses.

–       Brand Images – by Sylvie Roy and Anne Zazzo
–       Galatea – by Sylvie Roy
–       The Birth and Development of the Couturiers Perfume – by Isabelle Chazot

1920: The Art of Couture

The Ateliers and their craftsmanship were instrumental in the creation and production of the adornment of the roaring 20’s gowns. This decade saw the golden age of embroidery, that has since became known as a métier d’art. Such skills are not only essential to haute couture but as come to symbolise what is unique about it.

–       Artisans of Couture – by Anne Zazzo
–       An Intimate View of Couture – by Sylvie Roy
–       Embroidery in the 1920s – by Zelda Egler

1930: Couture in Transition

This section describes how in the 1930 the “domains” of haute couture evolved. Earlier in the century, Anna de Noailles had turned to her couturiers to decorate her rooms, thus inventing the role of interior decorator.All of fashionable Paris then followed, most prominent amongst then was her step-daughter Marie-Laure de Noailles, who with decorator Jean-Michel Frank, established the 1930s taste for minimalist interior.


This aesthetic provided an excellent framework for the development of fashion photography. All of fashionable Paris then followed, most prominent amongst then was her step-daughter Marie-Laure de Noailles, who with decorator Jean-Michel Frank, established the 1930s taste for minimalist interior. This aesthetic provided an excellent framework for the development of fashion photography.

Lila Ralison offers an overview of the development of Paris fashionable districts, showing where couture salons were established and how their status evolved with the development of the city.

–       “The Nobility of the Dress” – by Anne Zazzo
–       Maire-Laure de Noailles and Jean Michel Frank: Framework for Couture – by Laurent Cotta.
–       Paris: City of Couture – by Lila Ralison

1940: The Collections

During the German occupation of Paris, designers had to be resilient and creative to find ways to survive the restriction imposed on them and their clients. They used traditional techniques in new ways and experimented with material.

–       Haute Couture under the Occupation: Creation under Duress – by Marie-Laure Gutton
–       An Intimate View of Couture – by Sylvie Roy

1950: Luxurious Couture

As the effect of rationings dissipated, the 1950s saw the “New Look” revolution started in 1947 by Christian Dior, soar. Skirts became incredibly full and luxurious. At the same time advertising revolutionized the press and women’s magazines promoted Hollywood glamour.

–       Haute Couture of the 1950s: A Distinct Vision of Luxury – by Alexandra Bosc
–       The Couture Client of the 1950s: Luxury in the Details – by Anne Zazzo
–       Paris: A Décor for Haute Couture – by Ykje Wildenborg & Marie- Laure Gutton

1960-70: Revolution in Couture

This era saw the Chambre Syndicale of Haute Couture struggle with the threat of mass production while the most prominent Grands Couturiers fully embraced modernity in their designs.

–       The Couturier and his Label: A Contribution to a Theory of Magic – by Pierre Bourdieu with Yvette Delsaut
–       The Client and the Legacy of Couture – by Morgan Jan & Anne Zazzo
–       Family Tree of Haute Couture – by Guillaume Steffanus

In their last contribution, Morgan Jan and Anne Zazzo explain that the legacy of haute couture is to be found beyond museum collections: Beginnings in the 1980s, fashion design, like other disciplines, entered into a king of postmodernism, cultivating the art of deliberate references to earlier works. Establishing systematic archival records allowed a designer to “quote” from the past, mining the resources of his own stylistic vocabulary.

As such this book and the story it tells is an un-valuable resource for anyone interested in fashion, past and present.


Paris Haute Couture, edited by Olivier Saillard and Anne Zazzo

Language: English
Hardcover, 288 pages
128 full-page colour photographs by Katerina Jebb
249 x 30 x 284 mm
ISBN-10: 2080201387
ISBN-13: 978-2080201386
Published 7 Jan 2013

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Written by Pierre Delarue