What Exactly is a ‘Couture Technique’?

Do you use the term ‘couture technique’?  I’ve never really used it – in fact, I’m not exactly sure what one is!  From blog reading and library books I have a general idea, but I am hesitant to use the term without knowing what the true definition is – and is there one?

These are my random thoughts and questions on the subject – they are not necessarily my opinion.  I’m really interested in your thoughts, and hearing what you understand a ‘couture technique’ to be.

  • The French word ‘couture’ translates into English as ‘sewing’, so is a couture technique simply a sewing technique?  Why then are couture techniques considered in higher regard than ‘ordinary’ sewing techniques? 
  • In the French Haute Couture system much is sewn by hand – does this mean a couture technique is one that is only sewn by hand?  I’m not sure this is correct, as a quick glance at several couture technique sewing books (like the ones above!)  reveals that a lot is done by machine, and some techniques are very basic.  Is any technique used in Haute Couture a ‘couture technique’ – including sewing on a button?
  • Is a couture technique used only in custom made or made to measure garments?  When I designed custom bridal, I altered my usual construction order so fittings and adjustments could be more easily made, and due to the nature of the garments I underlined more, used more boning, horsehair and net, and with all that lace and beading there was definitely more hand-sewing! But does that make all these techniques couture, when a ready-to-wear gown could be made in much the same way?
  • Is a couture technique the ‘best‘ method?  I personally think that there are many ‘best methods’ rather than a single one – and a good designer will have a wide variety of techniques in their arsenal and choose the most appropriate for a particular situation. Sometimes the best method for a hem might be a blind herringbone stitch, sometimes it might be just gluing it!    
  • Is a couture technique an advanced technique?  If so, at what point does a technique become advanced?  Who decides this?
  • Is a couture technique one used when time is no object?  In other words, cost is no object too!   
  • Is it simply a case of sticking a French word in front to appeal to our inner snob.  Sort of like saying ‘faux leather’, when fake leather will do.  Maybe it is a handy marketing ploy to imply prestige, sell more product, fancy tools, or books on secret sewing methods?
  • I seem to come across the term mostly in an American context – is ‘couture technique’ an American term, and not really used elsewhere in the world?  

These are all thoughts I’ve had as I try to come to a definition, and I’m really interested to hear your opinions! What is it that really separates a couture technique from an ordinary sewing technique? What exactly does the term mean to you?

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I'm a designer/patternmaker who loves to share my sewing knowledge with others! Follow me as I sew my personal projects, sharing my favourite tricks of the trade along the way.

55 thoughts on “What Exactly is a ‘Couture Technique’?

  1. I can draw an analogy with driving a car – a Mercedes – engineering at its best; versus driving Toyota – still a great car, not as great engineering as Mercedes, but still a great reliable car and gets to the place you want with great mileage. Not that one better than the other, but both excel in different things. The USP (ultimate selling point) is just different!

    Likewise if you spend time/money/energy to do great engineering on your clothes, that's couture to me. If not, it's still great as it saves me considerable time and money and still gets a great job done, even if not couture! 🙂

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  2. My comment could sound a bit harsh, but it's really not meant to be harsh! (English is not my mother tongue)
    I think there is a huge difference between couture garments / techniques and garments, somebody sews according to his own measurements. And it is not only a matter of hand sewing – couture also uses sewing machines (afaik). Couture is – in my opinion – a matter of a) technique and b) knowledge about fabrics, supplies and how-to-do alterations and c) also about design.
    But if you read couture blogs, you see a difference: in my opinion, couture is for example adapting physical disadvantages into a kind of “straight line” (example: hollow back, no straight shoulders, a “belly” etc) so that the owner seems to have a better silhouette (whatever this may mean). to make a kind of personal framework for ones body. You wrote about using horsehair. I doubt, that this is being used often outside the “couture scene”. (I saw photos of the making of a men's suit – and it was so interesting to see how they constructed the sakko.) And taking all this into consideration, I doubt that these garments are being made faster like written in the comment above mine. On the contrary. There are so many home sewers, who make their own bridal gowns – and they are beuatiful! – but do you think that you were faster when you made them professionally? I don't think so.

    I read several blogs, among others one of a woman, who took classes of a couture's tailor. And this woman was really very good in sewing! But she learnt so many tricks and new techniques, she wouldn't have believed before that. (I was very astonished to read that there is a sentence saying, that it takes years to learn how to sew the perfect button hole – well, by hand… but could you believe that? you see, however, a difference between a long-time-learnt button hole and a button hole of a good sewer. (it is – of course another question if you need this difference). The garments you show here on the blog are beautiful and show a huge skill – but if you browse through sewer's world there are also others: sewn according to the personal measurements, but you can see differences.

    In my opinion, there is a reason why a tailor has to learn his job and needs several years for that. Therefore, a higher pricing is a thing I can really understand. And I also think that one should respect the professionalism – not only of couture, but of all tailors.

    (once again: I don't want to sound rude – I adore everybody who is able to sew any kind of garment. but sometimes I miss this kind of respect of the skills those professionals learnt over the years of training and practice)

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