The dictionary defines “couture” as “the business of designing, making and selling highly fashionable, usually custom-made clothing for women.” The literal translation from French of Haute couture is, “high sewing” or “high dressmaking” or of course, “high fashion”. It refers to the creation of exclusive custom-fitted clothing and is constructed by hand, without the use of sewing machines.
This piece could have focused on the numbers, making it all about the billions of dollars each of these companies have earned. Instead we chose ten very successful (and yes, highest earning as well) couture firms and wrote about the history of how they became winners because of the men and women were responsible.
The 20th Century brought serious improvement in terms of women’s apparel. Spearheading this couture reform were a class of fashion icons who are referred to as fashion designers and artists. Most are known for their ability to exhibit the beauty of a woman’s body with stylish and elegantly created apparel and some for simply using the female shape to display their personal art in the form of fashionable attire.
There are so many talented and successful couture companies, many created and run by men, and some very successful couture houses by women. Here is 10 of the many fashion houses who have made women look stunning, beautiful, sensual and simply divine. Their interesting and of course unique fashion designs are what keep them in the forefront of the couture industry. Does one sex have the real handle on the fashion world? Is it the feminine touch or do men rule? Have a look and see what decision you come to.
10. Saint Laurent Paris – Yves Saint Laurent
Saint Laurent Paris – The company was founded in 1961 by Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé. This couture house has always been considered one of the world’s most prominent. Yves Saint Laurant was known for its modern and iconic pieces, such as its tuxedo jackets for women and it was the first to introduce power dressing for women in the form of “power suits” in the year 1966. The most important fashion gender legacy which Laurent has left behind is his “ready-to-wear” fashion clothing.
Pierre Bergé appointed Hedi Slimane as collections and art director in 1997 but he decided to leave the house two years later. In 1999, Gucci (owned by PPR which stands for Pinault-Printemps-Redoute) bought the YSL brand. In 2012, PPR, now known as Kering announced that Hedi Slimane would be back at YSL as creative director. The newly appointed Slimane decided to change the name to Saint Laurant Paris.
9. House of Cardin – Pierre Cardin
The House of Cardin opened in 1950. The Italian-born Frenchman is celebrated for his futuristic looking 20th century pieces. He likes geometric shapes and often ignores the female form. Cardin rose to fame in the age of the space race, and his creations reflected that. His “ bubble dresses” introduced in 1954, combined an earthly elegance with out-of-this-world colors and avant-garde design. Cardin’s clothes showed a freedom of expression that highlighted larger ideals, like for instance, the emancipation of women.
Pierre Cardin was the first fashion designer to turn to Japan as a high fashion market when he traveled there in 1959. He was a member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture et du Prêt-à-Porter from 1953 to 1993. After a break of 15 years, he showed a new collection to a group of 150 journalists at his bubble home in Cannes France.
8. Gucci – Guccio Gucci
An Italian luxury fashion house founded by Guccio Gucci in Florence in 1921 and is currently owned by the Kering Company. Gucci established a shop in 1920 that sold fine leather goods with classic styling. Together with three of his sons, he expanded the company to include stores in Milan and Rome as well as additional shops in Florence. The stores featured such finely crafted leather accessories as handbags, shoes, and the iconic Gucci ornamented loafer as well as silks and knitwear in their signature pattern. Their fashions were distinguished by a signature double-G symbol combined with prominent red and green bands which is the Gucci crest.
Gucci fell on hard times as a result of a much too large product line. In 1989, Dawn Mello was hired as editor and ready-to-wear designer in order to reestablish the Gucci reputation. Well aware of Gucci’s tarnished image and the value of its name brand, Mello hired Tom Ford in 1990 to design a ready-to-wear line. He was promoted to the position of creative director in 1994. Mello initiated the return of Gucci’s headquarters from the business center of Milan to Florence, where its craft traditions were rooted. There she and Ford reduced the number of Gucci products from twenty thousand to a more reasonable five thousand and the company survived and improved to do quite well.
7. House of Dior – Christian Dior
In 1946 Christian Dior founded his fashion house in which was backed by Marcel Boussac, a cotton-fabric magnate. Today LVMH Moet Hennessy owns the House of Dior. This French designer was best known for his distinctive “New Look” silhouette. First shown in 1947, Christian Dior’s suits and dresses revolutionized the way women dressed after World War 11. Dior died in 1957. Today, talented designer John Galliano carries on the legendary designer Dior’s legacy in Paris. Galliano creates dramatic couture ball gowns, chic prêt-a-porter (ready-to-wear clothing), and luxurious accessories for the Dior line. Galliano’s talent and his over-the-top runway shows have ensured that the brand remains strong and viable.
6. Polo: Ralph Lauren – Ralph Lauren
Ralph Lauren is an American fashion designer and business executive, best known for his Polo Ralph Lauren clothing brand, and a global multi-billion-dollar enterprise. In 1967, with the financial backing of Manhattan clothing manufacturer Norman Hilton, Lauren opened a necktie store where he also sold ties of his own design, under the label “Polo”. In 1970, the first Polo logo was seen in Lauren’s line of women’s suits that was designed in the classic men’s style. Two years later, the famous short sleeve shirt with the Polo emblem appeared, and it soon became a classic. These shirts have been collected by men all over the world ever since. He later got the rights to use the trademark Polo from Brooks Brothers. Brooks Brothers managed to retain its rights to the iconic “original polo button-down collar” shirt in spite of Lauren’s Polo trademark. In 1971, Lauren expanded his line and opened a Polo boutique on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, CA. In 2010, Lauren was declared Chevalier de la Legion d’honneur by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Lauren has also become well known for his collection of rare automobiles, some of which have been displayed in museum exhibits.
5. Versace – Donatella Versace
She’s an Italian fashion designer and also the sister of the late Gianni Versace and Donna Versace has proven successful in her own right. After the murder of Gianni in 1997, Donatella took over Versace and has taken the company to new heights. She ensured that Versace shops would cater to the different fashion centers around the world, particularly Milan and New York. Donatella chose to place some of her good celebrity friends such as Jennifer Lopez, Madonna, Christina Aguilera, Demi Moore and Lady Gaga, in high esteem in the Versace advertising sector, making them and other A-List celebrities such as Beyoncé and January Jones the persona and image of Versace. Her popularity grew when she designed the famous Versace Green Dress, also known as the “Jungle-Dress”, which was worn by Jennifer Lopez at the Grammys in 2000.
This is definitely a family business. Donatella Versace owns 20 percent of the entire stock market assets of Versace. Her brother, Santo Versace, owns 30 percent. Donatella’s daughter Allegra Versace inherited 50% of the company stock after the death of Gianni Versace.
4. Calvin Klein Inc. – Calvin Klein
Calvin Klein is an American fashion designer born in New York City. In 1968, he started a company that would later become Calvin Klein Inc., with a childhood friend and businessman Barry K. Schwartz. Klein was called the new Yves Saint-Laurent, and was noted for his clean lines. He capitalized on his own charisma and good looks. Ralph Lauren, one of his biggest business rivals, was believed to envy Klein’s ability to effortlessly charm, and to “work a room”. he became the toast of the New York elite fashion scene even before he had his first mainstream success with the launch of his first jeans line. In addition to clothing, Klein has also given his name to a range of perfumes, watches, and jewelry.
3. Armani – Giorgio Armani
Giorgio Armani is an Italian fashion designer, particularly noted for his menswear and his clean, tailored lines. He formed his company, Armani, in 1975, and by 2001 was acclaimed as the most successful designer to come out of Italy. Georgio Armani is also the first designer ever to ban models who have a body mass index under 18 from walking the runway. The Armani company designs, manufactures, distributes and retails haute couture, ready-to-wear, leather goods, shoes watches, jewelry, accessories, eyewear, cosmetic and home interiors.
2. Donna Karan International – Donna Karan
Karan began her career as an assistant designer with Anne Klein in the late 1960s, where she was eventually promoted to associate designer in 1971. She started Donna Karan International with her late husband Stephan Weiss in 1984 with the financial aid of The Takihyo Corporation. She is the sole creator of the DKNY label (Donna Karen New York). Two years later, she created DKNY Jeans, a denim-inspired collection. DKNY for men was launched in 1992. Karan left her CEO position with her company in 1997, but continued as chairwoman and designer. The current CEO is Mark Weber.
1. Chanel S.A. – Coco Chanel
Born Gabrielle “Coco” Bonheur Chanel, was a French fashion designer and founder of the Chanel brand. Her modern thoughts, practical designs and her pursuit of expensive simplicity made her one of the most influential and important figures in 20th century fashion. Chanel was the only fashion designed to be named on the Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century list. Coco Chanel is credited with helping to liberate women from the, “constraints of the corset” and popularized a more sportive and casual chic as the feminine standard in the years after World War 1. Chanel designed jewelry, handbags and fragrance. Chanel S.A. is known for the “little black dress”, the perfume Chanel No. 5, and the Chanel Suit just to name a few of their signature products.
Chanel S.A. is a French privately held company owned by Alain and Gerard Wertheimer, grandsons of Pierre Wertheimer, who was an early business partner of Coco Chanel. Chanel S.A. is a high fashion house that specializes in haute couture and ready-to-wear clothes, luxury goods and fashion accessories.
The Chanel product brands have been personified by fashion models and actresses, including Catherine Deneuve, Nicole Kidman, Anna Mouglalis, Keira Knightley and Marilyn Monroe.