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The Golden Age of Couture

The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London 1947 - 1957 (Victoria and Albert Museum, 2007)

Get this book! You won’t hear me utter those words too often, but this is one of the rare occasions. This companion to the exhibit currently on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London is one of the most inspirational books I have read in a long time. And everyone knows that we seamsters are always on the hunt for inspiration!

This beautiful book, edited by V&A Senior Curator Claire Wilcox, covers many aspects of the couture industries in France and England during the heady days between the end of World War II and the late 1950s. Its nine chapters are written by different authors, each of whom has extensive background in the subject matter of his or her chapter.


1. Introduction
2. Dior’s Golden Age: The Renaissance of Couture
3. Inside Paris Haute Couture
4. Material Evidence: London Couture 1947-1957
5. Perfect Harmony: Textile Manufacturers and Haute Couture
6. Dior and Balenciaga: A Different Approach to the Body
7. Cecil Beaton: And his Anthology of Fashion
8. Intoxicated on Images: The Visual Culture of Couture
9. The Legacy of Couture

The book is chock full of beautiful pictures of couture garments. Many of the photos may be familiar, including Dovima With the Elephants, ‘Bar’ Suit by Dior, Audrey Hepburn in a still from Sabrina, and other iconic photos. But there are many more that you likely never have seen, including behind-the-scenes shots in ateliers and photographs of designers’ style charts and worksheets.

If I had to pick favorites

While the whole book is excellent, if I had to choose my favorite chapters as a seamster, they would be Inside Paris Haute Couture and Perfect Harmony: Textile Manufacturers and Haute Couture. These two chapters illuminate the goings-on in the front and back of the houses, as well as the relationships between the couture houses and their suppliers. I loved reading about the progression of les petites mains in the houses, starting as arpettes (apprentices) and hopefully working their way up the ladder to the head of the atelier, the Premiere.

It’s fascinating to read about the symbiotic relationship between the couturiers and the textile manufacturers. Couturiers could ensure the exclusivity of their fabric choices (once one house put a fabric on hold, the manufacturers couldn’t show that fabric to anyone else). Once the designers showed their collections, the textile manufacturer could count on orders for the fabric from stores and clients around the world as a result of the association. The couturiers pushed the manufacturers to come up with more and more innovative fabrics, pushing the envelope for all consumers.

Most chapters have interesting sidebars as well. These page-long essays include discussions of Embroidery and the New Look, and biographies of Jacques Fath, Balenciaga, Richard Avedon, and numerous others whose work contributed to the allure and resurgence of couture.

A must-read
This is a book that should be on every seamster’s to-read list. Whether you have couture aspirations, or you are just looking for inspiration, this beautiful book will provide you with a banquet full of food for thought!


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