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Student Showcase Archive

Josephine De Stael

PhD Work

PhD work

Couture à Porter

The thesis examines luxury production in Europe today through a study of Parisian luxury maisons in the fine jewelry, haute couture, lingerie, shoe and tailoring industries. The aim is to investigate how French luxury maisons have achieved ‘normalisation without uniformisation’ through the production of haute couture/bespoke and pret-à-porter hybrids.

Evidence is drawn from case studies introduced through a combination of archival and ethnographic evidence. These studies include John Lobb (Hermès shoes), Cadolle (lingerie), Chaumet (fine jewelry), Azzedine Alaia (Haute Couture) and Cifonelli (mens’ tailoring), as well as smaller producers connected to these firms through materials and labor (the milliner Michel, the embroidery firms Desrues and Lesage, the feather maker Lemarié, the glove-maker Causse and the flower-maker Guillet).

The starting point of this thesis is the bespoke/haute-couture production process. In each industry this can be broken down into the measurement, the design, the model, the material, the making and the final fitting: The measurement of the customer, which is based on observation, touch and a personal relationship between the customer and the artisan, leads to a balance between the idea of proportion and perfect fit. A unique design emerges from a dialogue between the artisan and the customer. High quality, expensive material is chosen by the customer and the artisan. A model is prepared and used as a prototype for the final object. The object is handmade by an individual artisan or a collection of artisans. At the final fitting the object is presented to the customer and alterations are made as necessary to achieve a perfect harmony between the artisan, the customer and the final object. The thesis moves through each of these stages as it investigates how the bespoke/haute-couture production process balances the need for individuality with uniformity.

The thesis goes on to examine how the bespoke/haute-couture production process has been adopted in the production of prêt-à-porter goods to create bespoke/haute couture hybrids that retain a unique aura.

The luxury production process observed in this thesis provides an ideal vantage point to examine the wider debate surrounding individuality and uniformity in the contemporary history of art/ design literature. Questions arising from this work include: Is it possible to retain the aura of the individual in the face of mass production? How do we define notions of originality/individuality and standardization/uniformity in the 21st century? And is there such thing as an original in the 21st century?



  • Josephine De Stael\n
  • PhD


    School of Arts & Humanities


    History of Design–

  • Joséphine graduated with a B.A. (Hons) in Economics from Trinity College Cambridge in 2011. She then completed a Masters in Luxury Management at one of Italy’s leading fashion schools, Polimoda, in Florence. Following an internship at the Hermès head-office in Milan, she moved back to London to commence her studies at the Royal College of Art. Joséphine is fluent in English, German, French and Italian.