As it turns out, Paris Fashion Week (prêt à porter / ready to wear) isn’t like the others, it really stems more out of the couture presentation tradition. Paris is an old city after all, and one with an established and longstanding fashion industry.
The late 18th century fashion figure, Rose Bertin, is credited for playing the modern role of milliner-dressmaker and all-around tastemaker. With the French Revolution (1789) came another world order that hastened the evolution of style, fabrication and the selling of fashion products throughout the 19th century. The Industrial Revolution, the newly created sewing machine and William Henry Perkin’s synthetic dyes, amongst many influential innovations, forever changed fashion.
From the elegant Merveilleuses of the post-revolution Directoire period to the Napoleonic new style reminiscent of ancient Greece to the cage crinolines of the 1850s, it is technology that helped fashion evolve so quickly throughout the 19th century and, in turn, made fashion presentations what they are today.
The idea of fashion presentations only started to happen after an Englishman, seeking his fortune in Paris, opened his own fashion house in 1858. His name was Charles Frederick Worth, and as history would have it he became known as the [grand] father of haute couture.
His revolutionary concept was to develop a selection of original looks (i.e.: a collection), have the clients come to him, and present the creations on actual women in front of the clientele. One of his first clients, Princess Pauline de Metternich, introduced emperor Napoléon III’s wife, Eugénie, who instantly made him a world sensation by favoring his creations.
The modern fashion designer/couturier was born. Worth also used his influence to change the fashion landscape again a few years later. A decade after opening his house, with the assistance of his sons and other couturiers, he helped establish la Chambre Syndicale de la Confection et de la Couture pour Dames et Fillettes, with the initial purpose to protect original couture designs from being copied. This marked another step in what defines fashion and fashion week today.
Next: The Paris fashion scene pre-WWII