The Decoupling of the French Textile Industry and Haute Couture in the 1950s and 1960s

The proposed paper explores the evolution of French couture-textile relations and French government-business relations throughout the 1950s and 1960s. This study is grounded in the multiple changes that occurred between the two decades with the end of a state-sponsored and textile-backed aid to couture plan in 1960, the dematerialization of fashion in the 1960s through the advent of brands and licenses, and the waning of couture’s influence throughout the period. The paper will answer the following question: How does the French couture-textile relations evolve within the new fashion system that takes form in the 1960s? Through this question, I seek to investigate the different perspectives of the couturiers, the public authorities, and the various textile branches. This directly pertains to business history as a showcase of the importance of cross-referencing different industries’ perspectives to understand apparent historical contradictions. In the present case, I analyze the minutes of meetings between the three sets of actors who managed the aid to couture funds from the early 1950s to the mid-1960s. Additionally, I engage with the history of international relations by referring to diplomatic archives in order to better understand the interest the French authorities had in haute couture. This approach is at the roots of the research findings. They demonstrate that contrary to the couturiers’ arguments and traditional historical narrative, haute couture never managed to become the “spearhead” of French textile exports starting in the 1950s. This underlines the central argument of the paper, which is to reframe the relations between couture, textile and government in order to shed a new light on the renewal of an aid to couture plan at the end of the 1960s when the couture-textile rapprochement of the early 1950s was no longer relevant.