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Evening dress by Pierre Balmain, Paris, about 1955. Museum no. T.176-1969, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Evening dress by Pierre Balmain, Paris, about 1955. Museum no. T.176-1969, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London


Paris was the home of a luxury trade in fashion goods. Entire streets were devoted to glove makers, shoe makers and furriers while feathers, floral accessories and ribbon work were worked by hand in small workshops, much as they had been since the 18th century.

Embroidery specialists created a range of samples each season. Once selected, a design remained for the exclusive use of the couturier. Hubert de Givenchy said these samples served as 'the springboard to creation'.

Gowns that were to be embroidered were usually simply cut to show off their sumptuous surface detail. Their embellishment required meticulous patience, for as Dior explained, 'a ball dress may be entirely covered with millions of paillettes, or pearls, each one of which has to be put on separately'.


Couture garments required high quality, innovative textiles and trimmings. French couturiers were extremely skilled in the use of soft, draping fabrics (flou). British couturiers were well known for tailoring firmer textiles.

Each season manufacturers from all over the world would arrive at the couture houses with fabric samples or lengths. They developed a close working relationship with their clients, and sometimes collaborated with them in developing new fabric types and eye-catching designs.

By the early 1950s, rationing and shortages had eased off. Both natural and man-made fibres featured in couturiers' collections and in the twice-yearly features in major fashion magazines.

This content was originally written in association with the exhibition 'The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London 1947–1957', on display at the V&A South Kensington from 22 September 2007–6 January 2008.

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