Have you ever caught yourself walking by a high-end store’s window display only to pause, do a doubletake, and think “Wow, that dress is truly remarkable. The details and craftsmanship are phenomenal!” Maybe you’ve spent many moments thumbing through your favorite fashion magazines looking at photos from the latest fashion shows and thinking “I may not have place to where that dress, but I need it.” Trust me, we’ve all been there. Something not everyone thinks about, however, is the creatives that brought the beautiful designs to life.
Of course, there are the Creative Directors and the CEOs of major fashion houses, who become public figures, well-known within the fashion industry, but it’s important to note that they are backed by an entire team equally as integral to create the beautiful designs we admire. If you have an interest in creating beautiful couture garments, you may already know how important each piece of the puzzle is in the fashion industry, but you may not know how to join the world of couture. In this article, we are going to discover what it takes to become an haute couture seamstress.
What Is Haute Couture?
When most people think of the words “haute couture,” they imagine brands like Gucci, Prada, Valentino, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Dior, and many more high-end designers. Haute Couture literally translates to “high fashion” in French, and only refers to a specific group of high-end designer brands that are members of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (based in France). Currently, there are approximately 150 members of the Fédération. Originally, it catered more to serving French designers, but, in recent years, has become more open to including fashion houses based in other countries.
Another common misconception about haute couture is that there isn’t a distinction between ready-towear versus haute couture pieces, which is untrue. Ready-to-wear refers to anything you’re able to purchase in-store, “off the rack,” or online. With ready-to-wear pieces, more than likely, you will run into many people owning these same items. While they’re finely made, they aren’t unique.
On the other hand, haute couture refers to custom orders that the fashion houses, belonging to the Fédération, create for their clientele. These are things like one-of-a-kind ball gowns for special events, or wedding dresses that are designed and sewn to fit one person – the couture dresses you won’t find anyone else wearing.
A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Haute Couture Dressmaking
Resources For a Behind-the-Scenes Look at Haute Couture Dressmaking
What is a seamstress? Is an Haute Couture seamstress different?
Seamstresses sew and construct garments from beginning to end. First, they consult with the fashion or costume designers, as well as clients, to get a clear understanding of the garment they’re producing. They then analyze any sketches and notes, then they create patterns with canvas, take measurements, and are in charge of the entire construction process of the garment.
The seamstress also conducts alterations and fittings, oftentimes repeating the process until the garment is made to the client’s satisfaction. They are the masterminds behind beautiful pieces of wearable art. While seamstresses are needed in any boutique clothing design business, the level of skill and talent an haute couture seamstress requires is far more demanding, due to the expectations of expertise with couture sewing techniques.
Are seamstresses required to go to school or have formal training before getting hired?
There are many ways to become a seamstress. Some individuals pursue formal training through universities or trade schools to obtain a degree in fashion, or perhaps they participate in apprenticeships and entry level positions with small designers, while many other people are either self-taught or learned how to sew at an early age.
There’s not a lot of information, nor resources available, on the internet regarding what it takes to become an haute couture seamstress. Paired with that, it’s difficult to understand the industry and hierarchy within it.
Is it competitive to become a seamstress?
It is competitive to become a seamstress, but when you think about it more broadly, any position that requires a high level of skill, talent, and experience will always be competitive. In this industry, you then have the additional hurdle that the skillset required is quite rare when compared to other jobs generally.
Haute couture fashion houses maintain a decently small staff, adding to the industry’s competitiveness.
Due to work demands, it is important that a fashion house hire someone who can reliably meet expectations and quick deadlines that come with the territory.
Do Haute Couture seamstresses make good money?
By no means do Haute Couture Seamstresses make anywhere near what Creative Directors or CEOs make, but they do make a nice living and earn a middle-class income creating gorgeous couture garments.
Many haute couture seamstresses stay at their jobs for many years, sometimes even decades. It is the opposite of what you would associate with sweatshop or factory workers in fast fashion as couture seamstresses genuinely love what they do and the world they’re a part of.
How do I get my foot in the door at a major fashion house as a seamstress?
As mentioned earlier, there is a hierarchy within the back end of haute couture production Below is the structure of the atelier:
- Premier or Head Seamstress
- Second Seamstress
- FHHQ aka Firsthand Highly Qualified
- First Hands
As you can see, Head and Second Seamstress are at the top of the food chain, but many people start off as first hands, assistants, and apprentices – working their way up over time.
My suggestion, if you want to work as an haute couture seamstress, is to ensure your sewing and garment construction skills are flawless. There is little room for error and impeccable attention to detail is required and expected. I also suggest you create an online portfolio and network as much as possible! Living in either Paris or Milan will put you at an advantage, given haute couture seamstresses need to live close to the atelier they work for.
Do Haute Couture seamstresses work throughout the world or are they only based in Paris?
During the early days of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, the council that sets apart “haute couture” designers from all other high-end fashion designers, haute couture seamstresses and dressmakers were required to live in Paris. Now, The Fédération has expanded to include designers based in other countries, like Italy and a few other places, as well, so there are more options available.
- Alexa Chung interview with Dior atelier workers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JD-J2MECdR0&list=TLPQMjMxMTIwMjA86hZdSWr3SA&index=2