New York, London, Milan – they are all famous for high fashion. When you speak of haute couture, authentic high fashion, you must be speaking about Paris, the birthplace and home of official haute couture. While you may have heard the term used to describe any bespoke, high fashion designs, in reality haute couture is a protected term that may only be used by select fashion houses of the highest quality. Only companies mentioned on the yearly list drawn up by a commission at the Ministry for Industry are permitted to use the label haute couture.
You can find a list of the current couturiers and designers at the French Federation’s website. You will see names like Alexander McQueen, Chanel, Givenchy, and Versace on the list, but what does it take to earn a coveted spot on the official haute couture list?
In order to qualify to be chosen for the haute couture list, couturiers must work in their own Paris workshop with a staff of at least fifteen people. Twice a year, they must publicly show collections of at least 35 runs. These collections must consist of day and evening wear on a minimum of three different models. These collections must also be available for in-house showings.
For those not in the fashion business, 35 looks twice a year may not seem like that daunting of a task. Think again, each of those garments is hand made from top to bottom, taking anywhere from 100 to 700 hours to complete. Employing a minimum of 15 employees at that skill level, for that amount of work, using the highest quality materials is a costly venture and one that not many fashion houses are able to achieve. It should not surprise you that one of these haute couture garments can cost upwards of $100,000. It is reported that there are only 2,000 women world-wide who purchase haute couture clothing, and of those 2,000 only 200 are repeat buyers!
Once a fashion house has made it onto the elite haute couture list, there is still a marked hierarchy. The list members are divided into the following camps: “official” members are French houses like Dior, “correspondent” members are foreign houses such as Armani, and new talent is relegated to the “guest” category. The guest signifier gives you an idea of the work the Federation expects new members to put out in order to remain on the list.