UNDERSTANDING HAUTE COUTURE: could you be breaking the law?!


Maison Rabih Kayrouz Haute Couture Spring Summer 2020 Paris

It is no secret that many MENA universities do not offer fashion and design courses as an undergraduate degree. As such, many MENA creatives have found refuge in private design schools, which in return, offered fashion and design courses. These schools have enabled aspiring MENA creatives to develop and learn the basics of fashion and design, including, but not limited to sewing, pattern cutting and sketching. Whilst these schools are essential and have proved to be effective in design, creatives and aspiring designers need to understand that fashion transcends beyond technicality. It is a degree within its own right; therefore, the field/ industry needs to be respected as such.


With that being said, we must point out that - yes, you do not need a fashion degree from a university to follow your dreams. Miuccia Prada, who has a PhD in Political science, Manolo Blahnik who studied literature and architecture and Giorgio Armani who studied medicine then dropped out to join the army are leading examples of that.


However, what you need to do is - continue educating yourself through online research, history books, local amenities available such as public libraries, internships and more. Reach out - ask for help. The beauty of this industry lies within its collaborative nature. We depend on each other, whether in skillsets or knowledge to continue learning. Our point is - if university is not for you, create your own degree. But remember - we are always learning!

Time and time again we hear the term Haute Couture being used freely by designers making things by hand or on an individual customer basis. Whilst we understand the confusion, if you are or planning to do haute couture or think you are doing it, you need to be very aware that you probably haven’t filled the criteria required to use that terminology by law!


Bouchra Jarrar Haute Couture Spring Summer 2020

What is Haute Couture?

The term "haute couture" is French. Haute means "high" or "elegant." Couture literally means "sewing," but has come to indicate the business of designing, creating, and selling custom-made, high fashion women's clothes.


Haute Couture represents the intersection of fine art and fashion, the development and maintenance of rare craftsmanship on its highest level, using the finest materials and unique fabrics, sewed with extreme attention to detail and hand-made techniques.


Haute Couture is one of a kind, it is exclusive and expensive. Each piece takes between 100 to 800 or more hours of the finest workmanship, offering nothing less than perfection. Haute Couture pieces are expensive! They range from $26,000 to over $100,000. A tailored suit starts at $16,000 and an evening gown at $60,000. These figures are estimates. Prices vary for every designer.

Haute Couture Is Regulated By The Government

Couture and haute couture are not the same. While couture can be used to describe any garment that’s handmade and one-of-a-kind, haute couture is a special designation created by the French government.

To qualify as an official Haute Couture house, members must design made-to-order clothes for private clients, with more than one fitting, using an atelier (workshop) that employs at least fifteen fulltime staff. They must also have twenty fulltime technical workers in one of their workshops. Finally, Haute Couture houses must present a collection of no less than 50 original designs — both day and evening garments — to the public every season, in January and July.


Each year the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture draws up a list of official couture houses that meet those specifications. Only a few selected designers are permanent members, such as Chanel and Dior. In recent years, we have seen Lebanese designers manage to attain the official recognition from Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in France - a monumental moment for the MENA fashion industry!


Ateliers Are The Basis Of Couture

Though things have been mechanized elsewhere in the industry, the game of couture stays purely played by hand. Haute couture houses host ateliers which are divided as necessary. In each atelier, petit mains work on garments supervised by a premiere. It is typically the premiere that heads up fittings, as houses must provide client fittings, as per Parisian law. For some brands, like Dior, at least three fittings are required per garment.


Three Associations

  1. The Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture whose members are only those companies designated as Haute Couture.

  2. The Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Modewhich includes Haute Couture houses and fashion designers also producing women’s ready-to-wear.

  3. The Chambre Syndicale de la Mode Masculinewhich includes men’s ready-to-wear brands and designers.


Elie Saab Haute Couture Spring Summer 2020

Shows Are Mostly For Clients While press do routinely attend the couture shows, the biggest audience consists of private clients or individuals who are present on their behalf. Not all clients are invited but the biggest spenders and some with the highest profiles are typically those who attend.

A Small Market Today only 2,000 women in the world buy couture clothes. Despite the small market, designers maintain haute couture operations partly because the prestige helps sell other products, such as perfume, cosmetics, and their ready-to-wear lines available in stores. Press Standards After becoming a member, there are more regulations to follow. These are closely regulated by the The Fédération, such as

  • Collections are private events and presented to accredited press only. The Fédération controls the list of press accredited for each event.

  • Fashion shows are not open to the public.

Ultimately, the designers who fulfil the set criteria are considered and if selected, become part of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, which is a collection of designers who are allowed to call themselves and their designs, Haute Couture. Once you have been accepted, you must continue to keep up these standards in order to retain your status, which can be taken away from you. via BoF via: Observer via: Create A Fashion Brand via: VOGUE RUNWAY