Elegance and Splendor of the Haute Couture

Art to be worn, created by designers and artisans.

Dinner Dress (c. 1892) by Charles-Frederick WorthThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Haute Couture

The foundations of the elite dressmaking system of haute couture were established by Charles Frederick Worth and others in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Its development into brand businesses and high-end prêt-à-porter lines was a major influence in the establishment of today’s fashion industry. Because highly skilled artisans participate in the manufacturing process, it is sometimes considered to be art that can be worn.

Dress (c. 1874) by Charles-Frederick WorthThe Kyoto Costume Institute


Charles Frederick Worth (1825-1895), an Englishman by origins, went on to establish his own maison in Paris in 1858. He set up the basis of the fashion system that would later be known as Haute Couture through initiatives such as showing his new designs on living women, developing clients who were fashion leaders in society, and implementing skillful advertising strategies. All of these ideas contributed to establishing Paris as the fashion capital of the late 19th Century.

Dinner Dress (c. 1883) by Charles-Frederick WorthThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Worth employed Lyon silks abundantly. These silk textiles, used without a hint of frugality in the voluminous dresses in that time, were spread through the whole world as brand-new fashion.

Day Dress (c. 1883) by Emile PingatThe Kyoto Costume Institute


Wealthy American women were common patrons of Paris haute couture, a world in which Worth and Pangat, two designers, enjoyed popularity. These rich, American women periodically traveled to Paris, ordered clothes, and returned to the U.S. with many high class, haute couture creations.

Evening Dress (c. 1903) by Jacques DoucetThe Kyoto Costume Institute


Jacques Doucet was one of the representative designers of the Belle Époque. He was gained overwhelming popularity among royal ladies of many countries, and especially among society beauties in Paris including actresses Sarah Bernhardt and Gabrielle Réjane.

Evening Dress (Nov-10) by Paul PoiretThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Paul Poiret

In 1906, Paul Poiret introduced high waist corsetless dresses. He shifted the fashion trend substantially from 19th-century dresses in artistic forms with excessive decoration toward innovative clothing that accentuated the natural beauty of the human body.

Evening Dress (c. 1911) by Callot SœursThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Callot Sœurs

House of Callot Sœurs opened in Paris in 1895. Mrs. Gerber, the elder of sisters, acted as the chief designer. They achieved popularity by producing elaborate handwork incorporating lace and embroidery.

Evening Dress (c. 1919) by Gustave BeerThe Kyoto Costume Institute


Gustav Beer, born in Germany, opened his fashion house in Paris in 1905. He also established branches at Nice and Monte Carlo. Under his concept of "conservative elegance for conservative clients," he introduced elegant dresses that were luxuriously manufactured down to the finest details. His approach was highly appreciated, and his fashion house was one of the most popular in the 1910s and 1920s.

Day Ensemble (c. 1928) by Gabrielle ChanelThe Kyoto Costume Institute


In 1916, Gabrielle Chanel introduced cardigan suits, made of jersey that had hitherto mainly been used for underwear. Jersey, elastic easy-to-wear material that does not hinder body movements, short skirts, and simplified beautility gained favor with women active in society. Today, in the 21st Century, these innovations are still basic to women's clothing.

Evening Dress (c. 1930) by Gabrielle ChanelThe Kyoto Costume Institute

This elegant evening dress from the 1930s has insertions of lace, the technique which was frequently used for lingerie during the Belle Époque period. Of the camisoles, slip dresses, and other similar styles that have transformed to become modern day outerwear, this work was the first such underwear fashion piece of the modern era.

Evening Dress "Henriette" (c. 1923) by Madeleine VionnetThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Madeleine Vionnet

Madeleine Vionnet was interested in Japanese kimono and fine arts, and in the early 1920s she created many works that seemed to be inspired by them.

Evening Dress (1932) by Madeleine VionnetThe Kyoto Costume Institute

This seeming simple, black evening gown was constructed on the bias using Madeleine Vionnet's minute calculations. The vertical and horizontal growth rates of the varying fabric weaves cut on the bias made sewing extremely difficult. Vionnet's stretching and smoothing of the fabric in advance, along with her artistic cutting and sewing skills, kept the shape of the dress after its construction.

Evening Dress (First half of the 1920s) by Jeanne LanvinThe Kyoto Costume Institute


While designers such as Chanel rapidly spearheaded an innovation in clothing during the 1910s and 1920s, Lanvin continued to create elegant and refined robes de style. Lanvin’s outstandingly elegant dresses were popular amongst clients who continued to value traditional beauty and didn’t embrace the modern, boyish fashions of the new era.

Beachwear (c. 1929) by Jean PatouThe Kyoto Costume Institute


This is a piece of Jean Patou's, who worked with sportswear from his early period. The material of this outfit is a man-made fiber, rayon, which was given much attention at the time.

Evening Dress (Autumn/Winter 1935) by Edward MolyneuxThe Kyoto Costume Institute


This work in the popular mermaid line style of the 1930s, is the triumph of Molyneux's golden age. The bias-cut fabric encases the body closely, and the gathers at the seams create a beautiful drape.

Evening Dress (c. 1937) by Elsa SchiaparelliThe Kyoto Costume Institute


Print dresses, a trend in the 1930s, became pop and unique in the hands of Elsa Schiaparelli. The print was possibly designed by a popular illustrator, Marcel Vertès. There is a column motif with her logotype in the print design. The column motif is a symbol of the Place Vendôme, where Schiaparelli's maison was located, and appeared in the advertisement for her perfume illustrated by Vertès

Suit (1940s) by Jeanne LanvinThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Haute couture in the Occupation

In 1944, Paris was freed from the Occupation. Many Parisian fashion houses had closed or moved to other cities during the war, and few remained. The serious shortage of materials had entailed a massive curtailing of production. Lanvin took pride, as an established haute couture house, in producing the highest quality creations even in a regulated time, as may be observed in the elaborate trapunto-stitching and the beautiful seams of the skirt.

Evening Dress (c. 1944) by Madame GrèsThe Kyoto Costume Institute


Madame Grès opened the fashion house Alix in 1934, but was forces to close it in 1939. In 1942 she opened a new house under her husband's nom d'artiste, Grès. In the mid-1930s she became known for extravagantly arranged clothes made of silk jersey in the classical Greek style and with few visible seams.

Coat Dress (Autumn/Winter 1947) by Christian DiorThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Christian Dior

Christian Dior made his dramatic debut in 1947 with his New Look collection. The New Look - Dior’s nostalgic and elegant first collection featuring soft shoulders, a narrow waist and a full skirt - heralded an era of peace and went on to define fashion in the 1950s.

Day Dress "La Cigale" (Autumn/Winter 1952) by Christian DiorThe Kyoto Costume Institute

During 1950s, Christian Dior led the golden age of haute couture in Paris. He created new silhouettes, such as the "Tulip line" and "A-line," one after another for every season. Using a stiff interlining and bones, Dior created three-dimensional silhouettes.

Evening Dress (Autumn/Winter 1955) by Christian DiorThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Covered with embroidery which changes size according to the body line, the dress emphasizes the thin waist and the wide-spreading skirt, achieving a perfection that is only possible through Paris haute couture.

Coat (1955) by Cristobal BalenciagaThe Kyoto Costume Institute


Together with Dior, Cristobal Balenciaga was one of the matchless twin stars of the golden age of haute couture in Paris in the 1950s. However, these two designers had different design styles. While Dior supported dress forms from underneath, using bones and interlining, Balenciaga tried to create forms by precisely selecting materials and utilizing accurate cutting techniques, and he achieved a good balance between comfort and modern design.

Day Dress (Spring/Summer 1958) by Cristóbal BalenciagaThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Balenciaga was unwilling to compromise on his ideals for the finished form. His relentless focus on the clothes is what resulted in products with a distinctive style despite their simplicity.

Dress (Autumn/Winter 1966) by Cristobal BalenciagaThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Combining an exquisite cut with an intrinsically stiff fabric to produce an expressive, dynamic vertical ribbing, this dress gives testimony to the creativeness which earned Balenciaga his reputation as a genius with scissors.

Evening wrap (c. 1955) by Hubert de GivenchyThe Kyoto Costume Institute


Hubert de Givenchy established an haute couture house in 1952. In 1953 he met Cristobal Balenciaga, and was deeply influenced by the Master. Following Balenciaga's footsteps, Givenchy eliminated excessive decorations and strove to produce the minimal and elegant dress that seems to be a step ahead to the fashions of the 1960s.

Day Ensemble (Autumn/Winter 1956) by Gabrielle ChanelThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Return of Chanel

Chanel closed her fashion house during World War II, but returned to the Haute Couture world for the spring/summer collection of 1954, when she was 71 years old. Her style, which had not changed from the pre-war period was not given any attention in Paris, being described as "old-fashioned." However, in U.S.A., American women welcomed the so-called "Chanel suits," which were suitable both for business and formal settings.

Dress "Trapeze" (Spring/Summer 1958) by Yves Saint LaurentThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Yves Saint Launrent

This dress, named the "Trapez," is one of the breakthrough works of the young Yves Saint-Laurent, who then worked for Christian Dior. This dress is one of the first collections introduced by the young Saint-Laurent, who took over Dior's fashion house after his sudden death. The minimalism in this work, eliminating any decorative factors including flashy colors, patterns and materials, is very interesting as a step towards the simple mini dress in the coming 1960s.

Dress "Mondrian" (Autumn/Winter 1965) by Yves Saint LaurentThe Kyoto Costume Institute

A masterpiece by Yves Saint-Laurent. A straight A-line dress with boldly set primary colors, bordered by black straight lines, was created after Compositions, famous paintings by the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian. The abstract painting, composed of separate blocks of white, red and black on the canvas, could be applied directly to the dress by set up with jersey pieces.

Dress (Spring/Summer 1967) by Yves Saint LaurentThe Kyoto Costume Institute

This dress is elaborately embroidered with 20 types of beads including sea shells, wooden beads, and animal-teeth-shaped beads, as well as several sorts of colored threads. We can see here the very cream of handworks, from the highly advanced and precise techniques of the embroidery studios. In the 1960s, haute couture created innovative designs, while observing its tradition.

Dress (Autumn/Winter 1967) by André CourrègesThe Kyoto Costume Institute


This mini dress, representative work by André Courrèges. Mini skirt appeared in haute couture collection for the first time by Courrèges in 1965. The innovative emergence of the mini skirt, which created a worldwide furor, was an embodiment of the gradually increasing consciousness of the body itself.

Pantsuit (Autumn/Winter 1969) by André CourrègesThe Kyoto Costume Institute

This pantsuit, an example of the women's pants style that André Courrèges had been producing since 1963, features subtle cutting that captures the soft lines of the body. Courrèges had introduced pants to haute couture along with Yves Saint Laurent. In the 1960s, youth was a pivotal keyword, and fresh, clean images were highly valued.

Vest, Knickerbockers, Sweater (c. 1966) by Pierre CardinThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Pierre Cardin

This men's outfit by Pierre Cardin represents the 1960s' design, so-called the "unisex" concept. After learning tailors' techniques, Italian-born Cardin studied haute couture, and founded his couture house in 1953. With an excellent ability to quickly identify underlying needs of the times, Cardin started a full-scale prêt-a-porter business in 1959.

Dress (c. 1967) by Paco RabanneThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Paco Rabanne

This mini dress made of aluminum plates sums up work of Paco Rabanne, known as the "Metal Worker." It is one of the monumental dresses of the 1960s, implicating of androids' glowing hard skin in science fiction.

Bodice (Autumn/Winter 1988) by Christian LacroixThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Christian Lacroix

During the 1980s the trend of returning to tradition became evident. Christian Lacroix formed an couture house at Paris in 1987, under the wing of LVMH. He majored in the history of arts in college, and brought a fresh sensitivity to the stagnating world of haute couture by daringly arranging historic costumes with unrestrained forms, recreating them as post-modern dresses for today.

Dress (Spring/Summer 1997) by Karl LagerfeldThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Craftsmanship goes on

This delicate surface that almost seems like it could crumble away, made by cord embroidery techniques. Incorporating new sensitivity while using traditional techniques, this is an item of rare beauty produced by the world famous embroidery atelier Lesage. To inherit them, Chanel has taken many long-established workshops under its wing. Lesage became part of Chanel group in 2002.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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