What Exactly is “Haute Couture”?

What Exactly is “Haute Couture”?

Our fashion-first readers already know this, but to our readers who come from a business or technology background, we’d like to help clear something up.

HAUTE COUTURE means “high dressmaking” or “high fashion” in French, where the phrase originated. It is used colloquially to describe fashion across the board–from Juicy Couture sweatpants to off-the-rack denim. This use, from a purist’s perspective, is wrong.

Despite the high cost of haute couture garments (some gowns can now top $100,000) many couture houses lose money; the fanciful runway spectacles are staged as marketing for the prêt-à-porter (factory made) clothing, luxury accessories, and especially fragrance & cosmetic lines.

The Parisian chamber of commerce, or the Chambre de commerce et d’industrie de Paris, regulates haute couture according to the following standards:

  • Haute couture designers must design made-to-order for private clients with at least one custom, in-person fitting for each garment.
  • They must have an atelier (workshop) located in Paris that employs at least fifteen full-time staff members.
  • They must have twenty full-time technical people house in in at least one atelier.
  • Every season, they must present a collection of at least twenty-five original designs to the public (of both day and evening garments); they must be shown in January and in July of each year.


The Chambre sends out new invitations every two years. Some couturiers you have heard of: Chanel, Dior, Gaultier, and foreign members such as Armani and Valentino. Many more designers are relatively unknown to the world of commercialism and fragrance deals; they quietly make beautiful made-to-order clothing using the old traditions.

This is the world of haute couture–and you just plain can’t buy it in a department store–or online.

Featue image c/o oneconcierge.com

Third Wave Fashion has been your fashion tech think tank since 2011. We publish the first ever printed fashion tech magazine, Third Wave.  Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter to stay on top of the latest in fashion tech + wearables.