Haute Couture - The History & Fabrics

Written By Evangelia at Joel & Son Fabrics


Haute Couture - The History & Fabrics


Haute Couture is a phrase which is often misused and that actually has very specific rules for the qualification and use of the word on a garment. Literally translated from French, Haute Couture means ‘high sewing’ and is often referred to as high dressmaking. These luxury one-off garment creations are always made by artisans (often in shift work to complete them on time) and commissioned by private clients, they require multiple fittings so that the garments are meticulously tailored for the wearer's measurements, resulting in a perfect fit. An Englishman called Charles Frederick Worth from the 19th century is considered to be the father of Haute Couture - to join this society, members are selected by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris.


What is considered a couture garment?


To qualify as an official Haute Couture house, members must design made-to-order clothes using an atelier (workshop) that employs at least fifteen full-time staff. They must also have twenty full-time technical workers in one of their ateliers and present a collection of at least 50 original designs, including day and evening garments each season, in January and July. Haute Couture garments are produced mainly by hand from start to finish and sometimes include the use of cutting-edge machinery. Only the most experienced and skilled sewers and the best quality couture fabrics are what sets these made-to-measure masterpieces apart. Luxury silks, gorgeous laces, fine tulles, classic bouclés and more are used to complete these one-off garments brewing in a couturier's imagination.


Our favourite couture fabrics


Silk Fabrics

Silk cloth has been associated with luxury and status since its inception in China in 27 BC. This graceful and timeless lustrous fabric is often preferred by couture designers. Just about every kind of silk is used for a couture garment creation, including silk Mikado, silk satin, silk jacquard, silk chiffon, silk tulle and silk georgette. Silk is often paired with other fabrics to push the boundaries and reach the latest technological achievements in the textile industry resulting in couture garments that are decadent and glamorous.


Oscar de la Renta Quote: “Silk does for the body what diamonds do for the hand.”


Deep Purple Beaded Chiffon


Lace Embroidered Fabrics

Lace embroidered fabrics were developed in the 1400s in Brussels, these light openwork intricate fabrics were created using a needle and bobbin. Making lace was time-consuming, required great skill and dedication resulting in a luxurious and expensive fabric. Exceptional laces were considered so valuable that they were often included in wills as to whom would inherit them. The lace fabrics were named after the region or town where they were made and included beautiful floral appliqués, detailed guipure, corded laces and luxury Chantilly.  Some special laces are still handmade today and often used for couture evening gowns and wedding dresses - both made only to be worn once.


All-Over Schlaepfer Lace Appliqué with Stones


Swarovski Fabrics

Swarovski embellished fabrics are often studded with thousands of tiny Swarovski crystals, both cut and uncut. 

In the fashion world, Swarovski crystals are the gold standard for adding sparkle and creating visual 3D embellishments that are ideal for a couture garment. 

These crystals are man-made gems manufactured in Austria. They first came to be in the late 1800s, when Daniel Swarovski invented a machine that could precisely cut stunning, high-quality crystals out of quartz, sand, and various other minerals.

Swarovski crystals add luxury and sparkle to quality fabrics and are most often used for evening gowns, wedding dresses, and other formal occasion garments.

These decorated fabrics catch the light better than any other type of crystal or gemstone-studded cloth, which is why they’re typically reserved for very special occasions.  


Pink Floral & Pearl Embellished Nude tulle


Hand Painted Silk Fabrics

Hand painted silks and duchess satin fabrics with fine detail are made through hours of painstaking work. These fabrics are masterpieces in themselves and are also ideal for couture garment making. First, the design is drawn on paper. Then, it is applied to a piece of cloth that has been stretched over a frame. The outlines are traced with a brush, then eventually coloured in. All this work is done by hand, just like a painting on a canvas.  Hand-painted fabrics first became prominent during the Ottoman period, particularly in Istanbul. Hand-painted couture fabrics have an impressive three-dimension appearance, adding character and interest. Many different fabrics can be used as the base for hand-painted designs, including silk chiffon, silk mikado, duchess satin, and silk taffeta. These luxury fabrics are often used to create gorgeous, one-of-a-kind evening gowns and dresses.


Pink Hand Painted Floral Silk Mikado


These exceptional couture fabrics are created by some of the most recognisable textile brands in the world based mainly in Europe producing intricate fabrics with complex designs. At Joel & Son, we pride ourselves on our selection of couture fabrics.



Visit Joel & Son Fabrics for Your Couture Fabric Needs


From hand-painted silk to guipure lace, there are plenty of high-end fabric options that you can use to personalise your designs.


If you are looking for couture fabrics for your next creation, Joel & Son Fabrics is here to help. We are a family-owned business and have been selling high-end dress, suit, and shirt fabrics, as well as trimming, buttons, and dressmaking materials, since the 1940s.


We currently sell over 25,000 luxury fabrics online and in our Central London store. Our fabrics are sourced from the leading French, Italian, English and Swiss manufacturers who supply the finest design houses throughout the world.


Visit our online shop today and let your fantasy escape and your imagination take flight to create something spectacular and unique. Explore our luxury fabrics online or come see us in person Monday through Friday, from 9am to 5pm.