Fashion is an odd beast by all accounts. Whereas some people may choose to see fashion as frivolous, the fact is that this gargantuan industry creates millions of jobs and generates billions in revenue around the globe. For others, fashion is revered like a religion and its two yearly fashion cycles are their pilgrimage.
Let’s not forget that humans are part of the animal world after all, and as nature dictates, we respond to beauty.
As legend would have it, the great Harper’s Bazaar editor, Diana Vreeland, demanded proof after the libération that Paris Fashion had survived WWII. The proof came in the mail… a silk rose was sent over, and voilà!
To say that the fashion industry took a serious beating during the war is an understatement. To remedy its injuries and to spring back to life, the couture houses regrouped, and as early as 1946 began producing some of the most beautiful creations seen in years. 1947 unveiled a new star: Christian Dior and his ‘New Look.’
The term ready-to-wear started to make the rounds in the media that same year and by 1950 became a common term. Not everyone dressed in Haute couture and although ready-made clothing had been around since the mid-19th century, it was never recognized on a collection-worthy level.
It was the industrialist, Albert Lempereur, who brought back to France the revolutionary ready-to-wear concept/model, from a visit to the US, and coincidently so did the house of Weill (really the société Weill run by Jean-Claude Weill); if Charles Frederick Worth is the big daddy of haute couture, Albert Lempereur is the big daddy of prêt-à-porter. Lempereur, and those who followed in his footsteps, took the American concept’s modernity and injected it with that French chic and elegance.
In 1958, the innovative couturier Jacques Heim (he co-owned the patent for the Bikini with Louis Réard!), in order to sell specially made looks on a large scale, launched the “prêt à porter creation” to complement his couture work.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, prêt-à-porter collections were shown to buyers and editors similarly to Haute couture, but only gained global status once names like Pierre Cardin, André Courrèges, and Yves Saint Laurent reinvented the game. These talents were directly mined from the couture tradition.
The world had changed drastically since 1868, so it didn’t come as any surprise when, in 1973, haute couture and prêt-à-porter merged under the same organizational umbrella, the Fédération française de la couture, du prêt-à-porter des couturiers et des créateurs de mode. It is the one entity that, to this day, sets the three calendars: Haute couture, the men’s collections, and Prêt-à-porter.
Vive la mode!