Updated: Apr 20, 2021
What is couture?
So what is couture? As a couturier I am often asked this question amongst many others around this concept, so I thought I’d put it all down here in this post to help clarify this fabulous (in my opinion of course) concept and perhaps debunk some of its myths.
The official definition of Couture, as listed in the Oxford Dictionary, is “the design and manufacture of fashionable clothes to a client’s specific requirements and measurements.” Couture also has other names such as bespoke, custom or made-to-measure; and if you are interested in delving more into its definition (I love to geek on these facts, so bear with me) the word originates from the French language which translates to ‘sewing, dressmaking’ but it has become more widely known in the fashion world as the definition of a unique, high quality, one-off design that is created for a specific individual.
Who makes couture designs?
Who makes these couture designs, I hear you ask? Well, they can be created by designers (like myself) who will go through the whole process from design to fit and manufacture, these people are usually called Designers but can also be classed as Couturiers if their whole work is solely focused on bespoke wear to their clients. Other titles include dressmaker, seamstress, tailor etc but these may not always include the actual design aspect of the process.
Okay, so now we know what it means, but you may still wonder what the point of it is? After all there are plenty of ready to wear clothes in the shops and online!
It is a fact that the art of bespoke design has slowly faded away in the UK since the 70s and the growth of ready to wear attire became so much more prominent that a lack of skilled sewers in the country has become glaringly apparent; with that the cost of materials has risen dramatically making high street/online shopping (most of which are highly likely made in China or Taiwan) cheaper and quicker. Due to that, made-to-measure clothes have been diluted to special occasion wear only, such as bridal wear.
These days the most commonly used method of shopping for your wedding look is to browse online and go try on dresses at one of many boutiques in the country. These bridal shops do a fantastic job in supporting their customers, but that should not negate the need for alternative methods of sourcing your bridal wear; there are so many benefits to opting for a couture design and I’ll do my best to go through them here.
A design that represents YOU. This is my first and - what I consider to be - the most important one of all. On your wedding day, the aim is usually to look your best self, so I would encourage staying true to your own style and using the bespoke element of design to truly personalise the look to you. Only you will ever have that design made for. The pattern will be created using your unique body measurements, eliminating the need for alterations after construction.
Want an alternative design? Yes, that is our specialty! It can be hard to find a style that represents you when the shops mainly stock the most popular and saleable designs today. Why not a bridal trouser suit? Or a specific colour? There are no limits when it comes to couture.
Non-standard body size. Is your upper body a different size to your lower part? Are you petite? (It’s not just about hem length, but the torso length can make the fit all wrong on a petite shape). Perhaps you’re in a wheelchair and want a design that is functional for you but does not compromise on the style you love. A bespoke design will cater for all your needs and is made for every possible body shape, size and style.
Incorporating personal elements. This is what made-to-measure designs are all about, personalisation. Whether it is in the form of using an heirloom/ vintage piece to incorporate in your own design, it can be a special keepsake that is sewn into your design or a bespoke embroidery, perhaps a special flower or drawing or even an embroidered scripture that details a special name or date etc. You can truly create an everlasting piece that you can treasure forever.
Caring for the environment. We all know how the fast fashion world is a massive contributor to polluting the environment. So for those who are environmentally conscious and would like their ethics and value to be reflected in their wedding day look, a bespoke creation would be a great option. The actual format of couture design lends itself to being a - so much more - environmentally friendly process by default as there is less waste when creating for individuals than to mass produce. I will not speak on behalf of all bespoke designers out there but, I myself, try as much as possible to buy from national suppliers, eradicating my footprint to almost zero, using responsibly sourced materials and eco-fabrics as much as possible. You can find some these in my Mai Collection.
Let’s talk about alterations. This is an area which I feel quite passionate about due to the nature of my work. Altering a wedding gown after it had already been constructed can make it lose a little bit of that original design essence and sometimes, it simply does not work; I have had a number of customers come to me purely because they found a great dress but the alterations needed on it would lose the beautiful detail it had or it would not feel like a seamless design after it fits them. That is not an issue I would even consider whilst designing your customised look as every detail would be carefully thought through with you in mind.
(Please note that this is only my personal opinion and that I truly believe there are many gifted sewers out there who do full justice to the pieces they are altering).
I have more questions
If all the above sounds like pure music to your ears, but there is still that little hesitant voice in your head convincing you that it’s just not for you, then that’s absolutely fine.
It really may not be for you and that’s up to you to choose of course. But you’re still reading this so maybe you have more questions? There are a few myths or misconceptions about a couture bridal design and I will list some here to try and debunk these in the hope of providing further clarity into the world of Couture.
I can’t imagine how it would look. I have clients who come in knowing exactly what they want and ones who have no idea where to start. As a designer, I have honed my skills in listening and understanding each individual’s style and ideas through consultations. I have also adapted tried and tested methods that allow you to envisage what you will be buying into prior to committing. The process is fluid, creative and very visual which suits every personality type. If you come to me knowing exactly what you want, then I would stay true to your vision during the whole process. If however, you are unsure then I would utilise my experience to explore until we find what you fall in love with.
It is very important to me that you are comfortable with the pace and that you are 100% sure of what you are buying, so honest communication is encouraged.
Can I change my design? Once we have agreed on the final design, it does not become set in stone. As I mentioned above, the working process is a fluid one, and many of the finer details get agreed on during the fittings, so if there is a detail you want to remove, adapt or add more of, we do just that. If you want to change the silhouette slightly, make it tighter/ looser/ fuller change the neckline etc that is all addressed during the fitting. The aim is to create a design that you gush over and feel very excited about. Fittings are one of my favourite part of the process as I love seeing the customer’s reaction to their dream look coming together.
It’s too expensive. We always hear of the large high end couture designer brands and their attire adorning celebrities; these lead us to believe couture is a very expensive option. That may well be true for those high end brands and some couturiers out there, so in this blog I will only speak for my brand, Rasha Kashou Couture. My average client spend to date has been between £1,500 - £2,500. This covers all consultations, fittings, accessories (where needed) and the full personalised service. I do not limit the number of consultations or fittings needed; in fact, I work with each client to find a comfortable working relationship that suits them. The UK national average spend on a wedding dress is around £1,300 (Oct 2019) when you add accessories and alterations to that figure it would not be too far from the fully customised service a couturier, like myself, would provide.
The Haute Couture myth. This part is just me being a geek with proper terminology but I wanted to address that label which many companies incorrectly use to describe their products. We already established the definition of couture and how different it is from a ready-to-wear design (ones that are made using standard sizing and may require alterations). The Haute Couture status is in a league of its own; it translates to ‘High Fashion’ and only large design houses, who are members of the ‘Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture’ can use that title under strict conditions which the brand must meet. There are a number of design houses that falsely use the title to elevate their brand and charge very high prices without actually being members of that organisation, so please be wary where you spend your money.
Where can I find a couturier near me?
I know what you’re thinking now. Where can I find a couturier to speak to about my bridal look? The most obvious answer is googling "couture bridal wear near me" or using one of the many wedding planning apps out there where they would have sifted through many bespoke suppliers and they would list their recommendations, making it easy to find your local ones. Another good way is through personal recommendations; if you don’t know anyone who can recommend a supplier, using chat forums (such as Facebook groups) to ask for recommendations can provide a helpful insight.
One thing I would highly recommend is that you read up on their reviews, look through their previous work, both collection designs and real brides and make sure that it corresponds with your own taste and style. Speak to them and ask plenty of questions, it’s important to know that you are comfortable working with them, their set processes and that you can trust them with your wedding day look.