Embroidery on the Runway: Haute Couture Patches

Embroidery on the Runway: Haute Couture Patches

Embroidered patches are humble accessories. But they also have a place on the fashion runways of Paris, Milan and New York.

When you think of custom patches, what do you think of? Blue jeans? Leather jackets? Casual clothing in general?

That’s all good, but what you might not realize is that custom patches have gone upscale too. Yep, the same accessories worn by bikers, hippies and rebels for decades has moved into the rarefied world of high fashion, or what the French call haute couture.

Say “whaute”?

It’s true. Haute couture patches are real, and on the runway. How did that happen?

To understand the popularity and use of custom patches in the realm of high fashion, let’s look first take a look at what exactly high fashion is.

So What IS Haute Couture?

The term “haute couture” literally translates to English as “high sewing” or “high dressmaking.” While some designers use the term in a generic sense, true haute couture – pronounced “oht coo-toor” --is a very specific phrase, with its own rules and even a commission to decide what qualifies.

It’s not just a simple term, though. A French commission decides the rules of what can be considered haute couture, and which designers are authorized to use the term.

You could say “it’s a French thing.” Just like with Champagne – which officially can only come from the country’s Champagne region – haute couture is a very precise, legally protected term.

The Federation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode determines which design houses qualify for the designation, and it’s typically applied to a limited number of houses each year.

Specific rules state a haute couture design house must:

  • Design made-to-order for private clients, with one or more fittings;
  • Have at least 15 full-time staff as well as:
  • ·At least 20 full-time technical people, in at least one workshop (atelier); and
  • Present a collection of at least 50 original designs to the public every fashion season (twice, in January and July of each year), of both day and evening garments. Each item must require at least two separate fittings.

That means usually only about 14 to 16 fashion houses a year qualify to call their product haute couture. Top names have included Christian Dior, Yves St. Laurent, and Chanel, among others.

Each couture outfit is painstakingly produced. A 2019 article noted that a single couture gown from designer Giambattista Valle could require 240 hours of labor and 6,000 meters of fabric to create. That level of precise workmanship and top-grade materials necessitates a price tag to match.

Who Buys Haute Couture?

With limited production, top-grade materials such as silk and high overhead costs, it’s no surprise that haute couture is expensive. Each garment is made to fit exactly one person. A single gown can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It’s reasonable to expect that the market for such garments is a small one. And indeed it is – one common estimate is that there are only about 4,000 customers worldwide for true haute couture. Wealthy individuals and celebrities are among the customer base.

The Role of Embroidery and Patches in Haute Couture

At first glance, “haute couture patches” might sound like an oxymoron. Patches, after all, are inexpensive enough that just about everyone can express themselves through embroidery. They don’t seem like a natural fit with ultra-exclusive garments.

At least one influencer disagrees, saying embroidery is an inherent part of haute couture, and can transform a simple dress into art. Designers have been known to incorporate both large and small patches into custom designs crafted for the runway.

Similarities in Haute Couture Patches and Fashion

It might not seem logical, but designers of all stripes are embracing haute couture patches as a way to make their designs stand out in the ever-competitive runway scene. For example, in 2016, both Gucci and designer Marc Jacobs featured patches in their collections. 

If you consider embroidery throughout history, haute couture patches make more sense. For centuries, all embroidery was created by hand. Artisans crafted each design painstakingly, one stitch at a time. Each creation was a one-of-a-kind work of art. 

Embroidery, because it was so labor- and time-intensive, was expensive. It was exclusive to wealthy nobles and royalty. Sound familiar?

By the 19th century, the advent of machine embroidery democratized embroidered decoration. It became possible to mass produce embroidered goods. In essence, embroidered patches went from haute couture to ready-to-wear. Custom patches became part of the everyday wear of students, workers, punk rockers and other rebels (with or without a cause) everywhere. 

Yet like designer fashion, haute couture patches never really lost their cachet and  continued to thrive. Granted, they tend to be a smaller, niche market than mainstream custom patches. But as a part of the whole culture of fashion, they maintain an unmistakable presence on the runway.

Changing Times, Changing Viewpoints

While some might consider it old-fashioned, the culture of haute couture hasn’t been standing still over the past few years. The organization that administers haute couture has begun to involve younger participants. 

As a result, fashion houses’ web sites have become more interactive. They’re drawing inspiration from millennials and Generation Z. Colors have become more vibrant. Ateliers have begun sharing videos and educational material on websites and social media channels.

It’s all part of a bid to stay relevant into the future with new audiences and prospective customers. Different generations have different color and style preferences. Producers of any product that ignore that basic concept risk getting left behind as millennials and Gen Z become more dominant in the culture.

Timeless Elegance

Some things, however, remain timeless. Classic elegance, outstanding construction and first-rate materials will always be sought after. With that in mind, we can be assured that both haute couture fashion and custom haute couture patches will continue to thrive. The proof will be on the runways of Paris, Milan, New York and other fashion meccas worldwide.

At Patches4Less.com, we’re dedicated to supplying you with the finest patches you can get. Whether you’re looking for haute couture patches, uniform name patches or anything in between, we are your trusted source. Call or email us today to find out how you can benefit from the versatility of custom patches!

Rick Cundiff

Rick Cundiff

Content Director, Blogger

Rick Cundiff spent 15 years as a newspaper journalist before joining TJM Promos. He has been researching and writing about custom patches and other promotional products for more than 10 years. He believes in the Oxford comma, eradicating the word "utilize," and Santa Claus.