Jump to content (skip navigation)

Women of Couture

Select a link below to find out more.

Fashion Show

At houses such as Dior and Balenciaga, the collections were presented first to the fashion press, then to commercial buyers from Europe and America, and then to private clients. Finally, they were shown to the interested public on a daily basis for many months. Each garment was made specifically for the house model who wore it, so that it fitted perfectly and looked its best.

Every design was photographed and registered by name or number. However, despite a law passed in 1952 that a couture collection was copyrighted for one season, couturiers filed dozens of lawsuits a year in an attempt to prevent illegal copying. Anyone caught sketching during a collection was asked to leave but some professional copyists were able to memorise the garments by eye.

Dior's collections took place in the perfumed, crowded grand salon, and were often attended by celebrities and film stars. Balenciaga's sometimes lasted two hours and were conducted in complete silence, apart from the number of each design being called out. Balenciaga eventually banned the press from his collections.

Exhibition Highlights

Select a link below to find out more about the exhibition highlights.

Lady Alexandra

Lady Alexandra - A Couture Client

Lady Alexandra Howard-Johnston (later Lady Dacre) was the wife of the Naval Attaché to Paris. She required an extensive wardrobe for the many formal dinners and state functions that she had to attend.

A couture client would attend all the fashion collections, seated in the front row if she were especially important. After the show, she would place her orders with her personal vendeuse or saleswoman. A calico toile would be created, then the final garment, a process involving numerous time-consuming fittings.

Lady Alexandra dressed exclusively at Jacques Fath. The designer lent her evening and day dresses each season, aware of the publicity that this would give his house. 'If there was a Fath dress I wanted to keep, I could pay sale price at the end of the season. I was not allowed to go to any other couturier, but I did not want to - Fath was perfection.'

Exhibition Highlights

Select a link below to find out more about the exhibition highlights.

Lady Alexandra


Photograph by Cecil Beaton. Paris, 1948. Evening dresses by Charles James. Beaton © Sotheby's

Photograph by Cecil Beaton. Paris, 1948. Evening dresses by Charles James. Beaton © Sotheby's

Lady Alexandra wearing a Jacques Fath evening dress, Paris, 1948. V&A: T.184-1974

Lady Alexandra wearing a Jacques Fath evening dress, Paris, 1948. V&A: T.184-1974

Info.

Back to top