Rich pickings: A crash course in haute couture

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Tomorrow the first model will step out onto the Versace catwalk, opening the haute couture shows in Paris, a biannual frenzy of made-to-measure fashion for the world’s richest women.

TIMELINE

WORTH IT

1857

Englishman Charles Frederick Worth was the first to call his clothes "haute couture". He invented the notion of the designer label

WAIST NOT

1911

Paul Poiret freed the waist from corsets but shackled legs in 'hobble skirts'. He also launched the first designer perfume

THE LBD

1926

Simple, streamlined and always black - Gabrielle Chanel created a dress called 'The Ford'. Modern fashion for the modern woman

A NEW WAY

1947

Christian Dior's opulent first collection, dubbed 'The New Look', swept away wartime austerity and asserted Paris's fashion supremacy

SHIFT OVER

1951

Spanish couturier Cristobal Balenciaga introduced the unfitted suit, triggering a move away from hourglass waists to Swinging Sixties shifts

KING YVES

1971

Yves Saint Laurent showed a collection influenced by the 1940s. Lambasted by the press, it nevertheless set the style for the next decade

AB FAB

1987

The first new couture house in 25 years launched under Christian Lacroix, right before Black Thursday. Couture sales slump

TWO BRITS

1996

Rule Britannia: Galliano was appointed to Dior and McQueen to Givenchy, staging spectacular shows that put couture back in the spotlight

CLEAN UP

2012

Belgian designer Raf Simons was appointed successor to Galliano at Dior. Simons' minimalist style offers a blueprint for future couture

Profile: The Lady muse

The role of 'muse' in a fashion designer's entourage is one of the most unusual. They're the source of inspiration for a designer, usually willowy, generally fabulously dressed, and always female.

Lady Amanda Harlech more than fits the bill. She's all of the above, as well as frank, funny, intelligent and an English aristo. But she's reluctant to peg herself as a muse. "I'm a bit of a pathfinder," she says.

That makes her sound like an orienteering expert. In a way, she is: she helps designers navigate the climes of fashion. First, she worked with John Galliano for the opening decade of his career, then becoming right-hand woman to Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel in 1996.

Before that, and before her marriage to Baron Harlech, she was the stylist Amanda Grieve, raised in London literary enclaves (her father is Alan Grieve, Jerwood Foundation chairman). As a young woman, she read English at Oxford University. Today, she helps fashion designers tell their stories through cloth.

How to: Buy couture

You have a surname that graces the front of a private bank, with a fortune to match. Whether you're an heiress, hostess or self-made billionairess, now's the time to drop a cool £100k on couture...

You attend the Paris haute couture shows in January (for spring/summer) and July (autumn/winter) to stalk outfits. It's like a bloodsport. Clients get their own shows away from hoi polloi of the press

Sewn by hand, couture is also made to measure. Which means fittings. Lots of fittings. Put aside six weeks a year for this, and possibly purchase a Parisian pied-à-terre. Cheaper than Hotel Le Meurice!

You can't be dressed in haute couture with nowhere to go. A charity ball, or six, are the most appropriate places to sport some mind-blowing couture clobber. Opera or ballet are OK – as long as the theatre is named after you.

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