French for high fashion, IIRC. (Never was good at French.)

It is only worn by emaciated models caked in vast amounts of makeup. Haute couture usually pushes the envelope of fashion, sometimes in quite bad ways.

"A model must both maintain and surprise. As a garment, it observes certain rules; as a dress, it transgresses them with insolence. It allows audacity within tradition."

-Christian Dior

"the art of the well executed, the sense of the accomplished"

-Christian Dior

"Haute couture consists of secrets whispered from generation to generation."

-Yves Saint Laurent

"a physician of the figure".

-Madeleine Vionnet

"For the great danger of our age is standardisation."

-Michel Klein

The term model is used above not to describe a woman wearing the clothes on the runway, but a replica of the garment cut from cotton cloth. Haute couture deals in millimeters-- everything is measured so that the fabric hangs correctly and follows the contours of the body perfectly without hugging it. The goal is effortless perfection, reflected in hundreds of hours of work-- shown in the prices, from about $20,000 USD for a suit to $80,000 USD for an evening gown.

This is not about impossible standards, it is not about fashion in the 'fitting people into molds and trends' sense: It's about making something from scratch to emphasize the individual.

The industry of couture is highly regulated by the French goverment. A house must meet stringent requirements to be able to call itself this-- there are only ten houses of couture in France today, though the numbers change constantly-- for example, Balenciaga dropped out of couture, and Pierre Cardin now only shows to a private audience. They are:

1. Coco Chanel (founded 1915)
2. Pierre Balmain (founded 1945)
3. Christian Dior (founded 1946)
4. Hubert de Givenchy (founded 1952)
5. Louis Féraud (founded in 1955)
6. Yves Saint Laurent (founded 1962)
7. Jean-Louis Scherrer (founded 1962)
8. Emanuel Ungaro (founded 1965)
9. Jean Paul Gaultier (founded 1976)
10. Christian Lacroix (founded 1987)
Charles Frédéric Worth founded the first true House of haute couture in the year 1858 at 7, rue de la Paix, in Paris. Worth's commercial success was based on creating original garments for wealthy individual clients.

Much like many other pinnacles of French culture, "haute couture" is a legal "designation". "Only those companies mentioned on the list drawn up each year by a commission domiciled at the Ministry for Industry are entitled to avail themselves thereof," (Syndical Chamber for Haute Couture).

In the year 1945 the main criteria were made law. The criteria were updated in the year 1992. Specifically, the most recent criteria are as follows:

(a) "to employ a minimum of fifteen people at the workshops"; (b) "to present to the press in Paris each season (spring/summer and autumn/winter) a collection of at least thirty-five runs consisting of models for daytime wear and evening wear."

research source: The French ministère des Affaires étrangères

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