Haute Couture EXPLAINED (Meaning, Best Fashion Brands, & Iconic Dresses)

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Long considered the apex of high fashion, haute couture holds a rich and long history of ravishing relevance.

Pronounced [oht koo-toor], or with the French [oht koo-tyr], haute couture high fashion remains centric in luxury design, representing an unmatched level of prestige and craftsmanship.

Revered for stunning couture pieces of original designs, Christian Dior, Chanel, Charles Frederick Worth, Maurizio Galante, and Frank Sorbier are some of the most esteemed designers, topping the list of exclusive haute couture houses.

This article dives into the history of haute couture and the ability to maintain a consistent high status for over 150 years, from Dior to Maison Margiela.

We’ll also shed light on modern haute couture trends, emerging haute-couture designers and houses, and the aspirations behind the style’s highly sought-after designs.

IN THIS ARTICLE

Haute Couture 101

What Does Haute Couture Mean?

What Is Haute Couture In Fashion?

Best Haute Couture Fashion Houses

How Much Can Haute Couture Cost?

Pret-a-Porter vs Haute Couture

Who Actually Wears Haute Couture




What Does ‘Haute Couture’ Mean?

Rooted in Parisian fine fashion, the phrase ‘Haute Couture’ means ‘high sewing’ in direct translation.

The term refers to the highest standard of ‘made-to-measure’ garments worldwide, boasting the fashion crown of artisanal craftsmanship in the fashion industry.

Only the finest designs, meticulously handcrafted from the world’s most luxurious fabrics, are granted the revered status of haute couture.

Haute Couture Dresses
Haute Couture Examples – From left to right: Valentino Haute Couture AW21 and Dior Haute Couture Spring 2020 (thevou.com)

Designers utilize painstakingly detailed embroidery techniques, plugin methods, and tambour beading to bring their enchanting visions to life.

Though haute couture is traditionally associated with worn fashion, the style is also prominently featured in upper-class interior design.

From window treatments to wall coverings, furnishings to delicate embellishments, upper-class interior designers use fabrics and patterns from haute couture labels such as Chanel as inspiration for high-class home decor.




What Is ‘Haute Couture’ In Fashion?

The term haute couture first appeared in 1800s France during the Industrial Revolution to describe a new style of hand-crafted dress tailor-made for royalty.

Throughout the years, haute couture has grown to include a more comprehensive selection of the highest quality fashion and contemporary design pieces of a unique design process.

In 1868, the ‘Federation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode‘ (FHCM) was founded in Paris to maintain and preserve the highest standards of fashion craftsmanship.

With strict requirements regarding the art of couture, FHCM granted the official recognition of haute couture design to an exclusive few, listed on its official website as FHCM members.

Federation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode
Federation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode – Haute Couture Week (thevou.com)

Enchanting every year, right from the world’s fashion capital, Paris Haute Couture Week ensures the haute couture market triumphs as the pinnacle of the fashion industry.

Haute couture styles embrace the very best in charming design, couture sewing, and fashion innovation to deliver the world’s most exquisite, enigmatic, and expensive clothing.

Driven by classic Parisian garments of rare inspiration and ingenuity, haute couture designers (also known as couturiers) continue to expand the horizons of high fashion.

Nowadays, a couturier’s unique style and expert skill are the determining factors in deciding if the fashion designer deserves the title.

Steered by traditional and modern haute couture design houses like Schiaparelli Haute Couture, Adeline Andre, and Frank Sorbier 2020s haute couture pieces showcase cutting-edge designs, placing the creative bar unflinchingly high.




Top 10 Haute Couture Fashion Houses

Classic haute couture labels such as Dior and Chanel are known for an exceptional sense of style and elegance and have persisted through the decades as the peak of haute couture designers.

Such classic couturiers revolutionized the way clothing is designed and how it is worn by creating new silhouettes for bodies, pushing the boundaries of what was understood as fashion.

Haute couture has inspired generations of fashion designers and continues to be universally held as the highest achievement in fashion craftsmanship.

Schiaparelli and Valentino Haute Couture
Haute Couture Designers – From left to right: Schiaparelli Haute Couture Spring Summer 2022 and Valentino Haute Couture Spring 2020 (thevou.com)

Modern haute couture brands such as Alexander McQueen and Jean Paul Gaultier have taken the art of haute couture and infused it with cultural elements in unseen creations.

Paris contains the highest concentration of haute couture Maisons, with French labels like Dior, Gaultier, and Givenchy creating singular creations for the world’s most prominent, prestigious, and glamorous individuals.

Here are the top 10 haute couture brands in 2022:


1/10
DIOR

France

Dior Haute Couture
Dior Haute Couture (thevou.com)

The subject of many fashion books, Christian Dior is, arguably, the world’s most prestigious French haute-couture designer to date.

Directed by the CEO Pietro Beccari, the French haute couture house continues to depict a rare stylistic vision through timeless sculptures of elegant, structured, and infinitely feminine collections worn by film stars, heads of state, royals, and celebrities alike.


2/10
CHANEL

France

Chanel Haute Couture
Chanel Haute Couture (thevou.com)

Born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel on August 19, 1883, in Saumur, France, “Coco” was the founder of the globally recognized haute couture Maison, Chanel.

A modern approach to practical design and stylistic simplicity made the fashion designer an influential figure in 20th-century fashion; the house’s creations dressed Jackie Kennedy and Princess Diana.


3/10
SCHIAPARELLI

France

Schiaparelli Haute Couture
Schiaparelli Haute Couture (thevou.com)

Italian aristocratic family of great cultural background, erudition, and accomplishments, Elsa Schiaparelli, is hailed by fashion critics as Coco Chanel’s greatest rival.

Inspired by Salvador Dalí and Jean Cocteau, Schiaparelli’s unconventional couture pieces are eccentric and unmatched celebrations of wearable surrealism.


4/10
JEAN PAUL GAULTIER

France

Jean Paul Gaultier Haute Couture
Jean Paul Gaultier Haute Couture (thevou.com)

Born in 1952 in Val-de-Marne, France, Jean-Paul Gaultier’s couture pieces and unique couture creations, such as Madonna’s famous conical bras for the 1990 Blond Ambition tour – exude a sensual, irreverent style that challenges the stereotypical idea of femininity and re-shape traditional gender roles.


5/10
GIVENCHY

France

Givenchy Haute Couture
Givenchy Haute Couture (thevou.com)

Founded in 1952 by Hubert de Givenchy and Jaani Robert Duffy, Givenchy is a Parisian haute couture Maison.

Givenchy is one of the world’s most coveted labels known to trigger instant recognition and admiration.





6/10
ALEXANDER MCQUEEN

United Kingdom

Alexander McQueen Haute Couture
Alexander McQueen Haute Couture (thevou.com)

Founded by Lee Alexander McQueen in 1992, the British haute couture house has produced some of the world’s most acclaimed collections.

Alexander McQueen showcases the designer’s unique stylistic vision, time-honored craftsmanship, and extravagant approach to clothing design.


7/10
VALENTINO

Italy

Valentino Haute Couture
Valentino Haute Couture (thevou.com)

Valentino is an haute couture house of Italian heritage.

The French couture label is Known for designing iconic wedding dresses for Elizabeth Taylor, Jennifer Lopez, Anne Hathaway, and Julia Roberts.

As one of the world’s top fashion brands in 2022, Valentino is loved by modern-day celebrities such as Meghan Markle, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett, Penelope Cruz, and Keira Knightley.


8/10
FENDI

Italy

Fendi Haute Couture
Fendi Haute Couture (thevou.com)

Established by Adele and Edoardo Fendi in Rome in 1925, the House of Fendi is a renowned haute couture house of rare elegance, craftsmanship, innovation, and style.

The Italian haute couture fashion house is currently owned by the Parisian fashion conglomerate LVMH.


9/10
ADELINE ANDRE

France

Adeline-Andre Haute Couture
Adeline-Andre Haute Couture (thevou.com)

Adeline Andre is a French fashion designer, taught by Surrealist painter Salvador Dali, who influenced her work.

The French designer stands out via slender shapes with svelte shoulders in fluid materials such as silk crepes, wool satins, and fine cashmere clothes.


10/10
FRANCK SORBIER

France

Franck Sorbier Haute Couture
Franck Sorbier Haute Couture (thevou.com)

Franck Sorbier is a contemporary French haute couture designer.

The label’s collections impress with clean cuts, excellent craft, prints, embroideries, hand-painted fabrics, ornamental diversions, and refined details, emphasizing the many beautiful facets of a woman.




How Much Can Haute Couture Cost?

Haute couture dresses can cost millions of dollars, as was the case of Christian Dior’s two million USD form-fitting chartreuse column gown, worn by Nicole Kidman to the 1997 Oscars.

Reflected in the high cost of quality craftsmanship, haute couture designers create stunning and one-of-a-kind garments, using only the finest textiles, with a single garment sometimes taking a team of 8-10 designers close to 700 hours to complete.

Haute Couture Craftsmanship
Haute Couture Craftsmanship (thevou.com)

Prices of coveted designs from exclusive haute couture designers range from a few thousand dollars well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

As highly complex, elaborate creations, haute couture prices vary according to the designer’s strong history, the intricacy of each design, and even the type of fabric used.




The Difference Between Prêt à Porter & Haute Couture

It is crucial to know that most couturiers offer pret-a-porter (ready-to-wear) lines for those looking to indulge in high fashion without the made-to-order heart-breaking price tags.

Instead of being tailored for the individual, pret-a-porter lines are machine and human-made combinations, in standardized sizing, with a lower price tag and broader availability.

Versace and Fendi Pret a Porter
Pret-a-Porter vs Haute Couture – From left to right: Versace Pret a Porter SS 2019 and Fendi Pret a Porter FW 2020 (thevou.com)

A blend of haute couture designs and pret-a-porter lines from Valentino, Versace, and Fendi Couture is often showcased on the red carpet, political events, and other grand functions.

Driven by a 20th-century generation of designers like Emanuel Ungaro, Alexis Mabille, Alexandre Vauthier, Julien Fournie, Giambattista Valli, and Antonio Grimaldi, one-of-a-kind evening garments evolved into an industry of shoes, accessories, and even perfumes.




Who Actually Wears Haute Couture

As haute couture pieces are made to order, each creation is custom-made for a given client.

Given the prohibited prices to create genuine haute couture pieces, some of the most common haute couture buyers are celebs and royals.

Celebrities such as Zendaya (Valentino), Kylie Jenner (Balmain), Rihanna (Giambattista Valli), Yara Shahidi (Chanel), and Kim Kardashian (Thierry Mugler), are very often seen wearing haute couture.

Celebs wearing haute couture
Lady Gaga and Beyonce wearing Haute Couture on the red carpet (thevou.com)

The stunning and unique nature of haute couture clothing lends itself to a premier choice of wedding attire and other formal occasions.

Similarly, those who work in industries where formal attire is necessary regularly often elect for haute couture designs from designers such as Armani and Stephane Rolland.




Conclusion

Laying eyes on the stunning and luxurious garments that grace the term haute couture is a privilege reserved for the few.

The style remains worthy of the term ‘high-sewing,’ and sustainably stuns the fashion world with constant innovation, luxury craftsmanship, and unbridled beauty.

With movies and books describing the haute couture journeys of Chanel, Dior, McQueen, and Schiaparelli, the exquisite appellation of haute couture is on the rise.

One more thing; just because a label has the word couture in its name – Juicy Couture, I’m looking at you – it doesn’t mean you’re looking at an authentic haute couture brand.

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Now it’s your turn…

Which one of the haute couture fashion houses do you see as the best, and why?

Which haute couture brands do you think we’ve missed and should include in our next article update?

Please leave your comments below; we always appreciate your comments and use them to learn, improve, and update these articles.



Marie Valentonis
Marie Valentonis
Holding a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and owner of a wedding photography venture in the DC area, Marie Valentois has a lifelong passion and predilection for the written word, with an accent on fashion and style trends. Structural, logical, and highly visual, Marie has a rare ability to deconstruct and reconstruct styles and put them on paper for millions of readers to understand, learn and benefit from.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. As an haute couture connoisseur, I can attest that this article is spot on, and the emerging designers presented here are indeed some of the best couturiers right now!
    Great work, Marie!

    • While true that the French luxury house Balenciaga has made its much-anticipated return to haute couture, it only happened in 2021, at latest fashion show at Paris Couture Week, 53 years later after the brand’s founder Cristobal Balenciaga closed his eponymous Maison. So yeah, I think it’s still a bit too early to call them haute couture. Regarding Audrey, it is argued that she might have worn Chanel before she fell in love with Givenchy.

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