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All About Haute Couture

02/25/2015 03:23 pm ET | Updated Apr 27, 2015

If you know anything about fashion, or pay attention to what is going on in the fashion world even a little bit, you've heard of the words haute couture.

These words come up in fashion all the time, but unless you're a fashion expert, you probably have no idea what they mean. More often than not, the phrase haute couture just elicits a ton of confusion or misuse of the term altogether.

It's time to clear up that confusion, though! Here is everything you could possibly want to know about haute couture fashion.

What does haute couture mean?

Many people believe the common misconception that haute couture simply means that a garment is handmade. While this is somewhat true, it's a very vague, easily misinterpreted definition of the word. After all, I could knit a scarf and by that definition call it haute couture, which it most definitely is not.

So what else does it mean?

By definition, haute couture means "fashion that is constructed by hand from start to finish, made from high quality, expensive, often unusual fabric and sewn with extreme attention to detail and finished by the most experienced and capable sewers, often using time-consuming, hand-executed techniques."

There's so much more to the term than simply hand-made, and these other details are what give items that are considered haute couture so much prestige in the eyes of fashion lovers.

What does haute couture refer to?

It is often thought that haute couture refers to clothing; however, haute couture can actually refer to the fashion designers or fashion houses that create the looks. This is why many times we see the word couture tacked onto the end of fashion house or designer names.

What makes a piece of clothing haute couture?

France is a powerhouse when it comes to fashion, so it should come as no surprise that in France, haute couture is a legal term, meaning that any item given the title "haute couture" has passed a series of criteria. The criteria was created in 1945 and later updated in 1992.

The four criteria, according to Wikipedia, are:

  • Design made-to-order for private clients, with one or more fittings.
  • Have a workshop (atelier) in Paris that employs at least 15 staff members full-time.
  • Must have 20, full-time technical people in at least one workshop (atelier).
  • Every season, present a collection of at least 50 original designs to the public, both day and evening garments, in January and July of each year
Based on these four criteria, it's easy to see that becoming a couture house and having your clothing deemed haute couture is no easy feat.

Who designs haute couture?

Since it is so difficult, time-consuming and costly to produce an entire line of haute couture, the list of designers and fashion houses that create this type of exquisite clothing isn't all that big. Ellie Saab, Karl Lagerfeld, Versace, Christian Dior and Chanel are some of the big names who produce haute couture.

Do haute couture lines show during fashion week?

The answer to this question is no. Haute couture lines don't show at the four big fashion weeks around the world, but that doesn't mean they don't show at all. Instead, these lines have their own fashion week and it works in pretty much the same way as the other fashion weeks.

There are two haute couture fashion weeks, one in July and one in January. Since the term haute couture has French origins, it should come as no surprise that the two fashion weeks are always held in Paris.

How long does it take to make a haute couture piece?

Since one of the requirements for haute couture items is that they are completely hand-crafted, you can imagine that making only one garment takes a lot of time, but how long exactly? According to various fashion websites, it can take anywhere from 100 to 700 hours to create one couture dress.

How much does a haute couture piece cost and who buys them?

Due to the insane amount of time fashion houses put into creating haute couture pieces, it should come as no surprise that a garment like that is going to cost you a pretty penny. The cheapest of couture pieces will cost you $10,000, but evening gowns start at $60,000 and can cost upwards of $100,000.

Needless to say, with a price tag like that, the market for haute couture isn't that big. It is reported that about 2,000 women worldwide purchase haute couture and of those 2,000, only 200 are regular buyers.

Now that you know all about haute couture, you'll have people thinking you're one of the fashion experts!