Christian Dior, Jean Paul Gaultier, Giorgio Armani, and Chanel. All of these names have one important thing in common — they are haute couture. A sometimes misunderstood way to classify fashion, haute couture styles are less common than many people think. Generally limited to high-profile celebrities and wealthy individuals, haute couture is not just another way to say that a fashion piece is really expensive. In fact, haute couture means a lot more than that.
The literal definition of haute couture
The phrase "haute couture" is French, translating, roughly into "high fashion" or "high dressmaking" in English. Haute couture pieces are more than high fashion, but are handmade works of art that use a number of specific, exclusive processes, designs, and fabrics. Each haute couture piece is original, fitted to the wearer, and handmade from start to finish by the best seamstresses in the industry. In addition, "haute couture" is a protected term that, legally, only a handful of designers and pieces are able to use.
The very specific nature of these requirements and the proliferation of the Internet fashion scene has changed the use of the term "haute couture" by those who do not understand the role of the Chambre or its members. In many circles, the term has fused with the sub classifications of "couture" and "designer".
Legal implications of the term "haute couture"
In France, the designation of an item or designer as "haute couture" is protected by law and defined by a regulatory body called the Chambre de commerce et d'Industrie de Paris (or CCIP). Each year, the Chambre uses a specific set of criteria to grant a limited number of member companies the right to use the phrase "haute couture" in their advertising practices or in any other form.
The rules were originally established in 1945 and then revamped in 1992. One rule requires designing garments that are made-to-order for private clients and require one or more fittings. Additionally, the designer must present a collection with a certain number of originally-designed pieces to the public twice each year, once in January and once in July, which includes both daytime and eveningwear options.
What haute couture is not
Because haute couture is such a limited concept, sometimes the easiest way to understand the term is to contrast it with what it is not. Haute couture does not refer to a label or a designer, or even the process used to create a garment. It refers to a specific piece of clothing made by a label or designer that meets the Chambre's requirements.
Haute couture vs. couture
Couture clothing, also known as bespoke or made-to-measure clothing, is made in exactly the same manner as haute couture pieces. This often includes special occasion pieces such as wedding dresses or formal gowns, which are hand sewn, feature fine fabrics and details, and offer a one-of-a-kind design. Well-known designers such as Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Dolce & Gabbana produce couture pieces. However, because they are not part of the Chambre's list, their pieces are not, legally, haute couture.
Haute couture vs. ready-to-wear designer fashion
While haute couture and couture are similar, haute couture and designer ready-to-wear (or pret-a-porter) fashion are completely different, even if they bear the same designer labels. Alternately called "off-the-rack" or "off-the-peg", ready-to-wear clothing is not typically original or unique, regardless of its price tag or relative quality. Rather, ready-to-wear items are mass-produced and use standard sizes for the general public.
Couture and haute couture designers produce and show ready-to-wear fashion lines. In fact, it is through these ready-to-wear items, which run the gauntlet of jeans through fine suits, that most designers earn a majority of their income and notoriety. Although most people know names like Dior and Versace, they have likely never seen their haute couture pieces outside of fashion museums and award shows.
How to buy haute couture-inspired fashion eBay
For the general public, the exclusivity and cost of haute couture fashion is well beyond their means. However, many designers use these unique pieces to inspire their more affordable clothes and these later items are easy to find amongst the large inventory on eBay. No matter the designer, style, or price range you need, it is easy to find the styles you love on eBay by performing a keyword search using the general search bar located on every page. Alternately, simply browse through the men's or women's fashion section to find inspired styles reminiscent of the exclusivity of haute couture.