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A fashion house or maison couture is a parent company which hires numerous fashion designers to produce a variety of lines. Many houses produce both couture and ready-to-wear lines of clothing, along with shoes, handbags, jewelry, and other accessories. Typically, a house has a flagship namesake brand, but it may also control several other brands which are targeted at different regions of the market. Goods from the main line tend to carry a premium cost, especially in the case of garments which are custom-designed for specific clients.
France, and specifically Paris, is generally viewed as the home of international fashion, and France is also the nation which gave birth to the maison couture. Historically, dressmakers worked on their own, and sometimes with assistants who performed basic sewing tasks. A French draper was the first to assemble a fashion house, in which multiple designers worked under his supervision to develop a line of clothing. He called his establishment a maison couture, and people started using the terms “house” or “couturier” to refer to establishments organized in a similar fashion.
Some well-known examples of couturiers include Chanel, Givenchy, Yves St. Laurent, Kenneth Cole, Alexandar McQueen, Prada, Versace, and Armani, among many others. Many of these firms are named for their founders, and several are dynastic businesses, with multiple generations of the family working in various divisions within the house.
Fashion houses take their brands very seriously, and they go to great lengths to protect and promote them. Each house wants to come up with innovative fashion which helps it to stand out from the pack, and it also wants to develop a trademark “look” for each season which is instantly recognizable. When designers at a house get together to develop looks for the new season, they talk about the history of the brand, the direction they want to take the brand in, and the themes they want to play with in the coming season. Each designer produces a range of items, and the head of the house decides which items will be produced and marketed to the public.
Employment in the fashion industry can be brutal, and working for a major fashion house is no exception. Designers usually attend art school and do years of scut work before they are even permitted to submit designs for consideration to their supervisors, and these supervisors have years of experience in the fashion industry. Fashion is definitely a lifetime career, as it can take a decade or more before one's designs are considered worthy of the runways.