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Art of Affluence: Haute Couture and Luxury Fashions 1947-2007

Art of Affluence: Haute Couture

and Luxury Fashions 1947-2007

July 5, 2008 – May 29, 2011

Mint Museum of Art



Ball Gown (detail)

PHILIP HULITAR American, 1905-1992.

Silk velvet with metallic thread embroidery worked with crystal rhinestones, drops and stones and fox fur

From a Southern collection. 1999.65.86


This exhibition presents selections from the Museum’s holdings of haute couture and luxury garments complimented by beautiful fashion accessories that reflect the creativity of numerous fashion designers of the second half of the 20th century and first years of the 21st century. Top couturiers and designers featured include Chanel, Dior, Balmain, Balenciaga, Schiaparelli, Valentino, Givenchy, Laroche, Yves Saint Laurent, Scaasi, Versace, McFadden, Galanos, Blahnik, Gucci, Louboutin, Armani, Ungaro, and Rucci, among others.


Haute couture (French for “high sewing”) refers to one-of-a-kind, custom-made garments. This concept dates back to Charles Frederick Worth (1826 -1895) who opened his fashion house in Paris, France in 1858. Today, haute couture falls within the domain of the French government that establishes standards and practices that stipulate that the limited number of official haute couture designers must be members of the elite Chambre syndicale de la haute couture. Members must design custom-made garments for private clients with one or more fittings, maintain an atelier (workshop) in Paris that employs at least 15 people, and present a fashion collection that comprises at least 35 outfits each season to an international press.



 Art of Affluence exhibition page (link is no longer available) on the Mint Museum website


Haute Couture

Haute Couture Today





In today’s fashion markets, creative fashion designers extend beyond the haute couture world and provide garments for both sexes that present a sense of exclusivity desirable to those of substantial means as well as to those within the general population. These luxury clothes offer exceptional quality with regard to materials, fit and style. Most couture houses offer a prêt-à-porter, or ready-to-wear, line of luxury fashions. These garments are produced in standard sizes, marketed in a finished condition and available for only a limited time.

  • A short article which describes the difference between the two terms and anticipates the Spring 2008 Prêt-à-porter show in Paris.



Bespoke generally refers to a man’s custom-tailored article of clothing. In England, the term dates back to the 17th century, when tailors held entire bolts of cloth from which a customer would select a length of the fabric for a garment. The material was then said to have “been spoken for;” hence a garment made by a tailor for an individual is called bespoke. Bespoke clothing is made to fit one individual, without the use of a pre-existing pattern and differs from “made-to-measure” garments that alter existing patterns to fit a customer. In London, the Saville Row area is renowned for gentlemen’s bespoke tailors.


Savile Row, London Tailors



Fabrics and Materials

Luxurious fabrics and costly materials prevail within the haute couture world. Fashion designers utilize the finest goods – silks, wools, cashmeres, cottons, linens, exotic skins, furs, leathers, suede, feathers and novelty materials – to create their garments. Often a fashion designer may reserve an entire run of a fabric or design the pattern and color of a cloth specifically for a garment. Expensive embroidery, trims and notions (buttons, belts, beads, crystals, etc.) may embellish a design and add to its beauty.


Haute Couture Suppliers



The skill of master embroiderers and specialized workshops provide the beautiful embellishment of fabrics and fashions that make an haute couture creation or a luxury clothing garment notable. It is within the evening wear designs that the magnificence of beaded and bejeweled embroidery work adds an extra dimension of exclusivity as each bead, pearl or paillette (an ornamental spangle, akin to a sequin) is applied one at a time. Embellishment may also come in the form of furs, skins and leathers that are custom-dyed and manipulated to add an element of perceived extravagance to a garment.

  • Gloves, Cuffs, and Collars-Embellishment, Structure, and Haute Couture Stitching (link is no longer available) - a course offerred by the Victoria and Albert Museum during their Golden Age of Couture exhibition. Taught by Brighton based fashion and knitware designer Juliana Sissons - detailed images of embellishment are included
  • Francoise Lesage is a master embroiderer who is associated with Haute Couture - this blog entry shows examples. And here is a link to the house.


Cut and Construction

The construction of a garment and its relationship to the human body is of paramount importance in couture and luxury clothing. Couture garments require special skills and methodologies: cutting, seam and hem finishing, hand stitching, pressing techniques and fabric selection, to name but a few. Initial designs are first made out of muslin (sturdy cotton cloth) which can be marked, manipulated and adjusted until the designer and client are satisfied. Such a sample garment is called a toile (twahl). From the toile is derived the actual pattern that guides the cutting of the extraordinary couture fabrics.

Print Resources from the Mint Museum Library

  • A list of Art of Affluence resources (link is no longer available) from MARCO (The Mint Art Research Catalog Online)
  • Charles-Roux, Edmonde. Chanel and Her World. New York : Vendome Press, c1981.
  • De Marly, Diana. The History of Haute Couture, 1850-1950. New York : Holmes and Meier, c1980.
  • Fashion: a History from the 18th to the 20th Century. Koln: Taschen, 2006.
  • Martin, Richard. Haute Couture. New York : Metropolitan Museum of Art, c1995.
  • Saint Laurent, Yves. Yves Saint Laurent. New York : Metropolitan Museum of Art, c1983.
  • Wilcox, Claire, ed. The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London 1947-57. London: V&A Publications, 2007.
  • White, Palmer. Elsa Schiaparelli: Empress of Paris Fashion. New York : Rizzoli, 1986.







Page Created by Joe Eshleman, Library Assistant for The Mint Museum of Art.