There is a new marketing term that has risen in the window treatments industry over the last couple of years, but there seems to be a question as to what it means. Is it a marketing term used to attract designers’ or homeowners’ attention? Or is it a specialty fabrication technique that lends credence to the use of this term in our industry? The term is: couture [koo to´or] from the French, meaning the design and production of fashionable high-quality custom-made clothing.
Does couture mean custom? Not really. The definition of custom is made or built to order. There is nothing in that definition that says anything about originality in design and detail, use of design elements and their principles or high quality. What, then, is couture? And can we actually give it definition in our industry? I think we can.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
I conducted several interviews with a variety of workrooms that fabricate, design or both. Some market themselves as couture; some do not (although they truly design and fabricate couture window treatments). I also attended an online seminar regarding tricks to creating couture window treatments. This seminar helped me to decide whether it is a marketing term, as used by some workroom/designers, or something special in design, engineering and fabrication.
In my opinion there is a difference between custom workrooms and couture workrooms. How can we tell? What are some things to look for when a workroom/designer uses the term couture in their advertising? Can the couture window treatment also be considered a work of art?
There are about 16 different features to couture fabrication. In this article I am not addressing fabric, design or the other 12-plus items that are implemented in couture window treatments construction. But here is a small sampling of couture fabrication features.
• Hand-sewing—“Draperies are totally hand finished, including side and bottom hems, trims applied by hand,” says Joyce Hernandez. Other items like rings and pleats are also hand sewn.
• Lined and Interlined—“All the linings are natural fiber, 100 percent cotton and the finest available, no poly blends . . . And there can be several layers: face fabric, interlining or bump, blackout lining and finally a finishing lining,” says Hernandez.
• Embellishments—“Such as tucks, beading, appliqué or piping,” says Leslie Fehling. Other embellishments also can include trapunto, ruffles and a string welt-banded edge.
• Invisibility—“In couture fashion so much of the detail is invisible on the surface of the garment. Think boning, couching stitches, shaping, stiffening, underskirts and structural stitching,” says Judy Soccio.
With couture window fabrication “there is no exposed fabrication whatsoever. You can turn the treatment every way and not see how we assemble it—no stitching, no staples, no nails, nothing,” adds Hernandez.
• Hems—Larger hems, 5 to 10 inches, double turned and the hems are weighted or padded.
STIRRING WORKS OF ART
The couture fabrication technique takes time, experience, engineering, education, creativity and expertise with fabrics. There are design elements, fabric manipulations and an understanding of engineering that all come together to produce a truly unique treatment. This uniqueness then asks the question: Can couture treatments be considered works of art?
One definition of art is “beautiful or thought-provoking works produced through creative activity.” Taking a piece of fabric and manipulating it to fit a particular window in a stunning design and having it engineered to hang in a thought-provoking manner would qualify the window treatment as art.
Couple that with the artistic skills required to perform this feat and you have a couture workroom/designer. These artistic skills do not just include design ideas or even engineering, but a thorough knowledge of stitching. Quality hand sewing comes from years of experience. Knowing the correct stitches to apply in each part of the fabrication process is vital. These hand stitches must be done accurately and consistently and, consequently, are time consuming. Again, we are looking at the work of skilled artisans.
Unfortunately we live in a society where very little is valued today. Years ago a hand stitched quilt made by a great grandmother or great aunt would have been passed down through generations because it was revered in the family. It was something that held sentiment and thought in each of its stitches as well as a representation of the person who sat endless hours stitching each careful stitch. The value increased as it passed from one hand to the next because it was a connection to the past, to the person who lived so long before them. There would have been an appreciation for the careful stitches, beautiful colors and thought-provoking design. It was unique, and so was the person who constructed it.
Today homeowners can get dispassionate, thoughtless, ready-mades, or semi-custom, or even custom window treatments that have only a monetary value to them. They watch television shows in which a room is done in two days and think that the window treatments can be slapped together with some pins and glue. Oftentimes, the window treatments in those homes are not something that stirs any kind of reaction. Usually, it is the paint and the weird things hanging on the walls. There is no signature, nothing that makes the homeowners walk over to the draperies, flip them back, look at the construction and makes them stand back and ask, “How did they do that? That is so creative.”
There is also no connection to the art because there is no reason for them to feel connected to it. The stitches are all machined, the fabric manipulation is boring and the design is ho-hum.
People feel a connection to a particular work of art because it stirs emotion. A beautifully designed and carefully stitched and embellished treatment has the ability to be a highly valued item in a home. It does not have value because of the price tag, but because of the application of specialized stitching, design and engineering. The treatment has an ability to stir the appreciative emotion in homeowners who know they have purchased a work of art. I think that is the purpose behind couture window treatments.
When you have a workroom/designer that can offer an artistic expression through fabric and construct it with her hand-sewn signature, you will find the essence of a couture workroom.
Kimberly Chaffee is owner of A Sterling Stitch, www.asterlingstitch.com, an award-winning custom drapery workroom in Sarver, PA. She has been in business since 2002 and is a member of the Workroom Association of America and is a Certified Workroom Professional.