The first fashion designer who was not simply a dressmaker was Charles Frederick Worth (1826-1895). Before the former draper set up his maison couture (fashion house) in Paris , clothing design and creation was handled by largely anonymous seamstresses, and high fashion descended from that worn at royal courts. Worth’s success was such that he was able to dictate to his customers what they should wear, instead of following their lead as earlier dressmakers had done. The term couturier was in fact first created in order to describe him. It was during this period that many design houses began to hire artists to sketch or paint designs for garments. The images were shown to clients, which was much cheaper than producing an actual sample garment in the workroom. If the client liked the design, they ordered it and the resulting garment made money for the house. Thus, the tradition of designers sketching out garment designs instead of presenting completed garments on models to customers began as an economy.
Throughout the early 20th century , practically all high fashion originated in Paris, and to a lesser extent London. Fashion magazines from other countries sent editors to the Paris fashion shows. Department stores sent buyers to the Paris shows, where they purchased garments to copy and openly stole the style lines and trim details of others. Both made-to-measure salons, and ready-to-wear departments, featured the latest Paris trends, and adapted to the stores’ assumptions about the lifestyles and pocket books of their targeted customers.
At this time in fashion history the division between haute couture and ready-to-wear was not sharply defined. The two separate modes of production were still far from being competitors, and, indeed, they often co-existed in houses where the seamstresses moved freely between made-to-measure and ready-made.
Around the start of the twentieth-century fashion magazines began to include photographs and became even more influential than in the past. In cities throughout the world these magazines were greatly sought-after and had a profound effect on public taste. Talented illustrators among them Paul Iribe, George Lepape and George Barbier drew exquisite fashion plates for these publications, which covered the most recent developments in fashion and beauty. Perhaps the most famous of these magazines was La Gazette du Bon Ton , which was founded in 1912 by Lucien Vogel and regularly published until 1925 (with the exception of the war years).
World War II created many radical changes in the fashion industry. After the war, Paris’s reputation as the global center of fashion began to crumble and off-the-peg and mass-manufactured fashions became increasingly popular. A new youth style emerged in the Fifties, changing the focus of fashion forever. As the installation of central heating became more widespread the age of minimum-care garments began and lighter textiles and, eventually, synthetics, were introduced.
Faced with the threat of a factory-made fashion-based product, Parisian haute couture mounted its defenses, but to little effect, as it could not stop fashion leaking out onto the streets. Before long, whole categories of women hitherto restricted to inferior substitutes to haute couture would enjoy a greatly enlarged freedom of choice. Dealing in far larger quantities, production cycles were longer than those of couture workshops, which meant that stylists planning their lines for the twice-yearly collections had to try to guess more than a year in advance what their customers would want. A new power was afoot, that of the street, constituting a further threat to the dictatorship of the masters of coutures.
During the late twentieth century fashions began to criss-cross international boundaries with rapidity. Popular Western styles were adopted all over the world, and many designers from outside of the West had a profound impact on fashion. Synthetic materials such as Lycra, Spandex, and viscose became widely-used, and fashion, after two decades of looking to the future, once again turned to the past for integration. Currently, modern fashion has seen a reference to technology such as designers Hussein Chalayan and Miuccia Prada who have introduced industrial textiles and modern technology into their fall collections.
There are three main categories of fashion design, although these may be split up into additional, more specific categories:
Haute couture The type of fashion design which predominated until the 1950s was “made-to-measure” or haute couture, (French for high-fashion). The term made-to-measure may be used for any garment that is created for a specific client. Haute couture, however, is a protected term which can only be officially used by companies that meet certain well-defined standards set by the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture. Nonetheless, many ready-to-wear, and even mass market labels, claim to produce haute couture, when in fact, according to established standards, they do not. A couture garment is made to order for an individual customer, and is usually made from high-quality, expensive fabric, sewn with extreme attention to detail and finish, often using time-consuming, hand-executed techniques. Look and fit take priority over the cost of materials and the time it takes to make.
Ready-to-wear Ready-to-wear clothes are a cross between haute couture and mass market. They are not made for individual customers, but great care is taken in the choice and cut of the fabric. Clothes are made in small quantities to guarantee exclusivity, so they are rather expensive. Ready-to-wear collections are usually presented by fashion houses each season during a period known as Fashion Week . This takes place on a city-wide basis and occurs twice per year.
Mass market These days the fashion industry relies more on mass market sales. The mass market caters for a wide range of customers, producing ready-to-wear clothes in large quantities and standard sizes. Cheap materials, creatively used, produce affordable fashion. Mass market designers generally adapt the trends set by the famous names in fashion. They often wait around a season to make sure a style is going to catch on before producing their own versions of the original look. In order to save money and time, they use cheaper fabrics and simpler production techniques which can easily be done by machine. The end product can therefore be sold much more cheaply. Incre
Planning a collection : Every collection is very carefully researched and planned so that all the items in it complement each other, and have the particular fashion look which the company is known for.
Predicting trends : One of the hardest skills a fashion designer has to master is predicting future trends. To do this, they look at what the fashion directions have been in previous seasons, keep an eye on what others in the fashion business are doing, and read fashion forecasting magazines. They also rely on knowledge of their own customers to see which styles succeeded and which were less popular in past seasons. Perhaps most importantly, designers use their imaginations to come up with new ideas. They often choose a theme to provide inspiration.
Choosing a theme : The theme of a collection can be a period in history, a foreign place, a range of colors, a type of fabric – anything which has a strong visual impact.
Designing a garment
- The design : Different designers work in different ways. Some sketch their ideas on paper, others drape fabric on a dress stand, pinning, folding and tucking it until the idea for a garment emerges. A third method is to adapt their own patterns from previous seasons (this method can give continuity to a fashion studio’s output).
- Making a toile or muslin : After making a rough paper pattern, or life-size 2-D plan, of the garment, a sample machinist (or skilled sewing machine operator) then makes a trial version of the garment from plain-colored calico. The toile (called a muslin in the U.S.) is put on to a dress stand (or a model) to see how it fits and whether it hangs properly.
- Making a card pattern : When the designer is completely satisfied with the fit of the toile (or muslin), they show it to a professional pattern maker who then makes the finished, working version of the pattern out of card. The pattern maker’s job is very precise and painstaking. The fit of the finished garment depends on their accuracy.
- The finished dress : Finally, a sample garment is made up in the proper fabric and tested on a fit model .