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Prestigious and unique in the fashion world, Haute Couture is unapologetically Parisian. Born in 19th century France, Haute Couture is often associated with elegant, elaborate, and exclusive gowns made from high quality and very often expensive fabrics.
When thinking of Haute Couture, famous designer names might come to mind like Chanel, Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Cardin … but you might also be wondering how sustainable these famous brands actually are. How ethical is Haute Couture?
What do we mean by Haute Couture?
The phrase “Haute Couture” has been misused and misunderstood for a long time, so let’s clear things up once and for all. “Couture” is French for “dressmaking”, and “Haute” means “high”. Haute Couture doesn’t just mean “high fashion” and luxurious: High fashion isn’t Haute Couture, and not all luxury houses are Haute Couture. In fact, there are precise rules for qualification.
Charles Frederick Worth, the father of Haute Couture, created the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture Parisienne in the 19th century, a union that still exists and chooses who gets to be qualified as “Haute Couture”.
To qualify as a true Haute Couture house, the fashion houses must respect several rules: designs must be made-to-order for private clients; there must be more than one fitting; the house must use an “atelier”, and employ at least fifteen full-time staff. In addition to this, the fashion houses must have twenty full-time technical workers in the work room, and present a collection of at least 50 original designs in January and July during Haute Couture weeks.
It’s only after meeting these precise criteria that brands can be admitted into this very elite circle. But Haute Couture certainly doesn’t guarantee fashion houses are ethical and sustainable, so we took a look at the ethics of the most famous Haute Couture brands for you.