Chanel's Fall/Winter collection was one of its first major live shows since the pandemic. | Source: Chanel

Paris Haute Couture Week 2021: Everything You Need to Know

Regarded more as a display of art than just a fashion show, Paris Haute Couture Week remains an elusive spectacle in the world of fashion. Carefully safeguarded by Paris’s Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCM), haute couture is characterised by exclusivity, superior craftsmanship and unrestricted creativity.

After the pandemic forced haute couture shows to the virtual world, the Fall/Winter 2021-2022 haute couture season marked the return of live fashion events. From July 5 to July 10, Haute Couture Week played host to runway shows from Chanel, Balenciaga, Dior, Jean-Paul Gaultier and a number of other top designers.

Balenciaga Fall/Winter

After a 53-year hiatus, Balenciaga made its official return to haute couture at Paris Haute Couture Week’s Fall/Winter 2021 shows. Creative director, Demna Gvasalia, showcased a collection characterised by exaggerated shapes and proportions, including lamp-shade style headpieces and dressing robe inspired coats.

Jean Paul Gaultier

After retiring in 2020, Jean-Paul Gaultier announced the creative director of Sacai, Chitose Abe, would be kicking off the first of many collaborations as part of Gaultier’s plan to invite guest designers to interpret the Jean Paul Gaultier codes for haute couture.

The collection featured hints at Gaultier’s iconic conical bra, as well as a mix of leather, tulle and skin-tight tattoo-covered mesh pieces with designs from famous tattoo artist, Dr Woo.

Chanel Fall/Winter

Amid the breathtaking architecture of the Palais Galleria, creative director Virginie Viard presented a classic haute couture collection that drew inspiration from some of Chanel’s most iconic looks. In honour of the Chanel tradition, the fashion house wrapped up the show with a stunning bridal look; a light pink bridal ball gown worn by Margaret Qualley.

The history of haute couture

Translating from French to ‘high dressmaking’, the concept of haute couture dates back to 1858 when English couturier Charles Frederick Worth established the first haute couture house in Paris. And while the fashion industry in Paris was already flourishing in the 1800s, it was the House of Worth’s one-of-a-kind designs that helped establish the emerging haute couture industry.

In regulating and maintaining the high level of craftsmanship involved in haute couture, Le Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture was established in 1868. However, it wasn’t until 1945 that the definitive rules of haute couture were enshrined in French law.

To earn the revered label of ‘haute couture house’ French law requires a fashion house to design made-to-order clothing for private clients who must have more than one fitting. The designer must also employ at least 15 full-time staff for its atelier (workshop) and a further 20 full-time technical workers. Every January and July, the fashion house must also present at least 50 original designs, including both day and evening looks, for its Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer collections.

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