French Friday #3: haute couture & prêt a porter


"La Tasse de Café" a French lesson from Mademoiselle Love
Mademoiselle Love's Tasse de Café & her friend smacking some powdered sugar onto beignets

This week's French expressions
by:  Mademoiselle Love
haute couture & prêt a porter

Today's Tasse de Café is simply delicious because it's a café au lait from Morning Call in Metairie,
Louisiana. Equal parts New Orleans chicory coffee and steamed whole milk, this is the best café au lait (translation= coffee with milk) on earth. I'd be willing to bet a lot of money that there is no better! Any takers? Didn't think so! Add an order of beignets topped with powdered sugar, and you've found heaven on earth. 

I will try not to get too distracted by my delicious breakfast as I discuss not just one but two French terms for the fashionable girl: Haute couture and Prêt-à-porter, two widely misused terms.

Before we prevent you from interchanging those very different terms, let's be sure you're saying them correctly. Don't embarrass yourself!

[         Haute couture ("oat" koo-tyur)           Prêt-à-porter (pre tah por tay)         ]

Now let's be sure you don't accidentally call a prêt-à-porter dress haute couture, when it simply is not! Sorry, girl! But you can't just throw that term around.
Haute Couture means "high sewing", or "high fashion".
&
Prêt-à-porter means "ready to wear"
You might find yourself looking at a Paris runway show online or better yet, getting invited to one. You may notice that it is called haute couture or Prêt-à-porter. A design house that is considered Haute Couture usually has 2 collections: one is Haute Couture and the other is Prêt-à-porter. The Haute Couture line is one of a kind, custom made pieces of the absolute finest fabrics. The Prêt-à-porter line is more "mass market" shall we say. The pieces are not made-to-order but rather come in sizes. If you are in-between sizes then it is up to you to take it to your tailor, dear. This also means Prêt-à-porter pieces are less expensive then Haute Couture ones which makes it more profitable for the design house. *Note - It is also common to shorten the term Haute Couture to only, Couture.
In order for a fashion house to be considered Haute couture, it must fulfill some very specific requirements. It must...

  • design made to order clothing, handbags or jewelry for private clients
  • have a workshop, or atélier (ah-tel-ee-ay), in Paris with at least 15 full-time employees
  • present a given number of daytime and evening pieces to the Paris press each season

Some examples of haute couture fashion houses are Chanel, Dior, Givenchy and Valentino.

Each year, the Chambre syndicale de la Haute couture draws up a list of designers that are in this prestigious club.

So that is a concise explanation of the 2 terms. Many times Haute Couture is misused in the same way the word Champagne is thrown around. If it's not from the Champagne region of France then it's Sparkling wine!  

Thus, choose your words wisely.
Merci, Mademoiselle Love
......................................................................................

jenée here - and a bit of Haute Couture/ Prêt-à-porter images from Valentino. I choose these in particular because they reminded me of New Orleans, where Mademoiselle Love wrote this post. It shows the dark, Gothic side of the city's character. That cape on the left from the Haute Couture Collection would fit right into an Anne Rice novel. The leather on the right from the Prêt-à-porter collection would be fitting in a dark French Quarter bar.
Valentino Collections: (left) Haute Couture Spring 2013  (right) Prêt-à-porter Spring 2013  Images from Style.com

.......................................................................................................................................................................

The Origin of "La Tasse de Café", French for "the cup of coffee"
Is a morning radio show out of Ville Platte, Louisiana on KVPI-FM
My dad listens to it regularly to keep up with his Cajun French as he now doesn't have much opportunity to speak it in Louisiana where the language is disappearing. 
Since I'm from Cajun land in Louisiana with a serious interest in fashion and my friend, the author, is a Louisiana girl too, who is head over heels in love with everything French and everything coffee, it was only fitting we pay tribute to our roots and our new found loves.
Tune in to KVPI every Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at 8:45AM (NY time) for your Cajun French lesson and come back every Friday for more French lessons. We will discuss useful French words or expressions for the fashionable girl. But to make it even more enjoyable, we will do it over a very fashionable cup of coffee.