Haute couture is quintessentially Parisian. It was founded in the quarter around rue de la Paix where Charles Frederick Worth established a dressmaking salon in 1858. His workshop was among a host of small businesses dedicated to the art of dressmaking and fashion, from embroiderers and feather workers to makers of buttons, shoes and gloves.
In 1868 the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture was established to safeguard the high fashion produced here, and in 1944 this became the Fédération Française de la Couture, with even stricter regulations. Historic members include Dior on avenue Montaigne and Chanel on rue de Cambon. Today many couture houses have upgraded to townhouses with added boutique levels in which you can indulge designer delights.
Dior at 30 avenue Montaigne
In December 1946, Christian Dior acquired a townhouse on 30 avenue Montaigne. Two years later it was the location in which he developed the revolutionary post-war Dior ‘New Look’. Seven years on, Dior had expanded to occupy five floors; it had 28 workshops and employed more than 1,000 people. From modest townhouse beginnings it was set in a labyrinth of buildings on the corner of avenue Montaigne and rue François 1er. To this day, Dior at 30 avenue Montaigne showcases new collections and the fittings for haute couture. Fans of Dior’s accessories and ready-to-wear can seek out new purchases in the ground floor boutique.
Dior, 30 avenue Montaigne, 75008 Paris, +33 (0)1 4073 7373
Balmain at 44 rue François 1er
In 1945 Pierre Balmain set up his couture house at his aristocratic home on rue François 1er. It was not entirely practical for the original team of 24 and the building was transformed into an atelier. Fast-forward to 2009 when architect Joseph Dirand oversaw a major refurbishment, turning the atelier into Balmain’s Parisian flagship boutique; the results are magnificent. Today, an imposing stone staircase leads visitors upstairs to where Pierre Balmain once showed his couture collections. The building’s fixtures and furnishings are still mainly from the great French 1940s designers who Pierre Balmain admired.
Balmain, 44 rue François 1er, 75008 Paris, +33 (0)1 4720 5748
Givenchy at 3 avenue George V
Founded in 1952, Hubert de Givenchy’s fashion business was quickly acclaimed. It soon outgrew its premises and in 1959 Givenchy moved his couture house to Hôtel de Caraman at 3 avenue George V, complete with a store on the ground floor. The property was directly opposite Balenciaga and later that year the two design houses collaborated in showing their collections to the press a month after the buyers in order to avoid any dictate (a first in couture history). The Givenchy building remains particularly striking today, offering breathtaking views of place de l’Alma and the Eiffel Tower. Its second floor is flooded with light through vast bay windows crowned by unusual quatrefoils.
Givenchy, 3 avenue George V, 75008 Paris, +33 (0)1 4431 5000
Chanel at 31 rue Cambon
In 1918 Coco Chanel acquired the premises of 31 rue Cambon; it was only a few steps from the Ritz hotel where she resided. All her fashion-making activities, which included workshops for jewellery, hats and sportswear, were united in this building whose configuration has remained almost unchanged. A Chanel boutique still occupies the ground floor. A large reception room on the first floor was used to present her collections and hold fittings for haute couture dresses and suits. A stairway, lined with mirrors, led to her second-floor apartment, which was a private realm filled with treasures. The third floor housed the studio and is where creative director Karl Lagerfeld works today. Light-flooded workshops were ranged below the rooftop.
Chanel, 31 rue Cambon, 75001 Paris, +33 (0)1 4450 6600