Couture fashion brands and clothing lines are actually made to measure or bespoke, not couture. Breaking French law. If you are thinking about luxury customers then read this first.

Time and time again I hear the terms Couture being used very freely by those making things by hand or on an individual customer basis. Whilst I understand the confusion, if you are or planning to do haute couture or think you are doing it, you need to be very aware that you probably haven’t filled the criteria required to use that terminology by law.

Haute Couture is a term that is actually protected by the French government and a tradition that started in Paris in the 19th Century officially, although the tradition can be dated back as far as the 18th century. The use of the term Haute Couture is a legally protected and can only be used by the fashion houses which have been granted this designation by the French Ministry of Industry.

In 1945, the French Ministry of Industry established set requirements of standards and practises that must be fulfilled in order to be considered Haute Couture and was updated in 1992. They, alongside the The Fédération Française de la Couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode, which was formed in 1973 and consists of three trade associations, check that all requirements have been carried out and to what standard and each designer is reviewed annually.

The three associations are:

  • The Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture whose members are only those companies designated as Haute Couture.
  • The Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Modewhich includes Haute Couture houses and fashion designers also producing women’s ready-to-wear.
  • The Chambre Syndicale de la Mode Masculinewhich includes men’s ready-to-wear brands and designers.

Ultimately, the designers who fulfil these criteria are then considered and if selected, become part of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, which is a collection of designers who are allowed to call themselves and their designs, Haute Couture. Most of the designers who achieve Haute Couture status are well known, large fashion brands, mainly due to the set up and money required to have any chance of being accepted. Once you have been accepted, you must continue to keep up these standards in order to retain your status, which can be taken away from you.

If you are interested in doing Haute Couture or being considered for it, then you will need to fulfil the criteria listed below before applying. I will say at this point that although I would never discourage any dream, you do need to be prepared for some hard work ahead. As The Fédération also has a design school for developing skills, called École de la chambre syndicale de la couture parisienne, this would be a good place to start your journey.

  • Designs are made-to-order for private clients, with at least four or more fittings and not readily available for sale to the public.
  • Have a workshop, or atelier, in Paris that employs at least fifteen staff members full-time.
  • Must have twenty, full-time technical people in at least one workshop.
  • Garments are all to be made by hand, by superior skilled seamstresses and tailors.
  • Every season, present two specific collections of at least thirty five original designs [although some sources quote this as 50], of both day and evening garments.
Jean Paul Gaultier AW15. Fashion Brands breaking the law by calling themselves Couture fashion when building and marketing fashion
Jean Paul Gaultier AW15

After becoming a member there are then more regulations that you must follow, which are closely regulated by the The Fédération, such as

  • Collections are private events and presented to accredited press only. The Fédération controls the list of press accredited for each event.
  • Fashion shows are not open to the public.

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The Fédération Française de la Couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode

École de la chambre syndicale de la couture parisienne