Birth of Haute Couture

French King Louis XIV was a fashion visionary, and staged a clothing revolution in the 17th century that forever altered the fashion industry.

Called the King of Couture, Louis established multiple luxury industries, from furniture to fashion and jewelry, which made France a world leader in taste and high class.

Prior to King Louis XIV’s reign, fashion and luxury garments were imported into France, primarily from Madrid.

Louis knew that taste and power go hand in hand, so he set out to turn France into a powerhouse.

He oversaw these new luxury industries, creating quality control standards, and turned his subjects into specialists so they could compete with foreign markets.

King Louis XIV went as far as to make it illegal to import anything that could be made in France, even ordering his own son to burn his coat that was made from imported cloth!

King Louis XIV created couture as a means of his influence because it demonstrated the wearer’s wealth.

Wedding ball of the Duc de Joyeuse and Marguerite of Lorraine, 1581

He held balls and festivities, requiring different dress for each. This created an ever-increasing demand for high-fashion garments, because the elites of France believed close proximity to the king was the best way to obtain their own status and power.

As King Louis XIV staged wars across Europe, his fashion influence spread. The extremely expensive garments he required his nobles to wear positioned France as the new capital of fashion, luxury, and taste.

Portrait of Louis XIV - Artist: Hyacinthe Rigaud 1701 Source


history Haute Couture 1600s 17th century fashion press french

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Spreading the News

The fashion industry could not spread beyond the nobles and elites without the fashion press to publicize what was happening behind the scenes.

The fashion queens, the couturieres and the Fashion guildes could never have brought couture into existence without the reporting by the first journalist to understand the role the fashion industry can play in the modern world.

Jean Donneau De Visé, a French journalist born in Paris in 1638, reported on the news of the moment with coverage of the elite social scene, trends in decorating, of all things haute.

While Donneau De Visé’s early writings about fashion were meant to be amusing and not advice, things quickly changed when women began taking interest in fashion.

 History Haute Couture French 1600s 17th century Paris fashion press

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All fashion trends started in Paris after 1670

Prior to 1650, men and women often had a similar number of wardrobe pieces. After 1650 women began to out purchase men for the first time, and that trend has never reversed since!

Back then, tailors came to their clients' homes to fit their clothing, which meant shopping was a private affair. But without knowing what other women were wearing or purchasing, merchants couldn’t create a demand from their clients for more pieces.

Merchants were limited by the amount of clothes they could carry from home to home.

By the end of the century, shopping was becoming more of a public affair. Merchants set up chic booths at annual fairs, and shops dedicated to high fashion began to pop up.

Fashion merchandising was born, and now women could wear the same outfit as someone they admired or hated but wanted to be like.

Seamstresses, who were only allowed only to do alterations, fought to obtain the right to design and make clothing. In 1675, a guild was formed, granting them official status and a new word “couturiere” was born.

French Couturieres - La Marchande de mondes - Robert Benard, 1769. Source

For the first time, women were being taken seriously as creators and designers of high-fashion garments.

The term couturiere was used to recognize the fact that women were being seen as having played a key role in turning fashion into the fashion industry.

In order to market new fashion trends, by the 18th century the French created fashion plates, which were hand-colored engraved prints which illustrated the latest styles worn by aristocratic men and women.

These fashion plates were accompanied by brief descriptions of the fashions. Later, fashions were also modeled on dolls to be sent around the world for customers to view in stores or their homes. 

Fashion plates grew into one of the most important resources for fashion news by the late eighteenth century.

18th Century French Fashion Plate. Costume de Bal, 1799. Source 

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