If you're a fan of fashion, you've likely come across this term many times while perusing your favorite fashion mag. Haute couture is a French term which translates as "high sewing," and is regularly misused (though not in the publications of the world's most informed editrixes, Anna Wintour, Carine Roitfeld, and the like).
"Haute couture" is often used incorrectly to describe pricey designer pieces, and while there is always considerable expense associated with haute couture, just because a designer gown is exorbitantly expensive and falls into the luxury category does not mean it is haute couture.
In fact, haute couture is a highly proprietary term with stringent requirements attached to its use:
In France, the term haute couture is protected by law and is defined by the Chambre de commerce et d’industrie de Paris based in Paris, France. Their rules state that 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” of the label haute couture. The criteria for haute couture were established in 1945 and updated in 1992.
To earn the right to call itself a couture house and to use the term haute couture in its advertising and any other way, members of the Chambre syndicale de la haute couture must follow these rules:Design made-to-order for private clients, with one or more fittings.
Have a workshop (atelier) in Paris that employs at least fifteen people full-time.
Each season (i.e., twice a year), present a collection to the Paris press, comprising at least thirty-five runs/exits with outfits for both daytime wear and evening wear.
However, the term haute couture may have been misused by ready-to-wear brands since the late 1980s, so that its true meaning may have become blurred with that of prêt-à-porter (the French term for ready-to-wear fashion) in the public perception. Every haute couture house also markets prêt-à-porter collections, which typically deliver a higher return on investment than their custom clothing…much of the haute couture displayed at fashion shows today is rarely sold; it is created to enhance the prestige of the house.