Haute Couture vs Ready-To-Wear

What Is Haute Couture?

Haute Couture (HC) translated from French means ‘High Fashion.’ Couture clothes are fitted and sewn specifically to the client and their measurements.

Originated in France in 19th century, as hand-made dressmaking for the rich and noble, couture pieces are made of fine fabrics and feature extensive hand made work. Whether it’s a specifically designed wedding dress, a red carpet evening dress or a piece for a couture fashion show, each piece can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Some will feature extravagant beading or embroidery, all hand made, and take months to produce.

Not every made-to-measure garment is considered HC!

Any fashion designer could create a custom design made to measure for a client, but to be categorised as Haute Couture, fashion houses have to be approved by the ‘Chambre Syndicale’, the Parisian regulating commission for Couture houses. And to be approved as an Haute Couturier, the Couture houses and designers have to follow some very strict guidelines.

They must, for example, have a workshop, or an atelier, with at least 20 workers, and they must show at least two Haute Couture collections per year, with at least 35 items in each collection. Considering the amount of time and the cost of resources that go into creating each Haute Couture garment, and show, this is definitely not something every designer could afford to do. In fact, the number of Couture houses has been declining quite speedily over the last 100 years, with just a few left today.

According to various sources, in 1946 there were still 106 Couture Houses and by 1997 only 18 were left. Today, only an exclusive group of designers (less than 15) are classified Haute Couture by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture.

The decline in Haute Couture is not hard to explain. Considering that only between 1200 and 3000 women today can afford Haute Couture garments (again, the figures are slightly different according to various sources).

So Haute Couture collections and creations are largely known as a fusion of fashion and art, of costume and glamour, produced to gain credibility, the status of prestige and of course the media coverage.

Many couturiers would be lucky to sell one dress from their collections after fashion shows are over, while those collections and their showcase on runways around the globe come at great cost.

For that reason, many Couture houses have also launched ready-to-wear (RTW) lines of clothing, which actually bring profit.  While others occupied niches in the wedding gowns market, targeting celebrities, royals and other high-income clients who seek exclusivity.

The majority of income for many Haute Couture brands actually comes from the sale of accessories, perfumery and cosmetics. While Haute Couture collections and shows serve almost purely an advertising role for their brand.

What Haute Couture offers that ready-to-wear labels cannot:

  • Exclusivity (Made to measure, unique garments of highest possible quality)
  • Class/Status
  • Luxury
  • Glamour

However, satisfying some of the above emotional needs is no longer limited to the rich and noble. The sense of luxury and glamour associated with particular couture brands is now possible to middle classes, as they can afford an accessory or a bottle of couture branded perfume.

The time-starved modern woman who doesn’t make enough in a year to afford a single piece of couture can still buy a share of the dream for the price of a Chanel lipstick or a Givenchy scarf.” (W. Langley, 2010)*

What is Pret-a-Porter / Ready-to-Wear

Ready-to-Wear (RTW), or Pret-a-Porter, in French, started to develop after the World War II, when the socio-economic changes pressured for a more affordable alternative in fashion and clothing. By 1960’s Pret-a-Porter was well and truly established. The innovations in transportation, communication and technology made rapid growth possible for the Ready-to-Wear businesses.

RTW clothing is a lot more practical and less extravagant in appearance than Haute Couture garments. In short, it is always designed to be wearable, easy to sell and cost effective. The clothes are mass/factory produced in standardised sizes. In fact, standard sized clothes, available to purchase off the shelf is one of the key elements that distinguishes Ready-to-Wear clothing from Haute Couture.

RTW designer clothes are mostly sold through boutiques, prestige department stores and are also available through various online stores.

What Ready-To-Wear offers that Haute Couture cannot:

  • Standardised sizes
  • Mass production – Cost benefits for the designers
  • Off the shelf purchase experience from various retail outlets and online stores – customer convenience
  • Affordability
  • Wearability (Haute Couture is not always wearable)
  • Practicality

Some designers enjoy the art of making a special garment, even if they are not Haute Couture. Thus, well-known brand designers such as Vera Wang and Carolina Herrera, who only show Ready-to-Wear collections, still create a few couture pieces for some of their clients.

At the same time, some couturiers including Elie Saab and Dior produce what’s known as ‘Ready-to-Wear-Couture.’ The exclusive but wearable garments usually targeted at specific celebrities and wealthy clients.

We must also note that Ready-to-Wear fashion can be further classified into Designer Ready-to-Wear and High Street fashion. Brands/designers such as Victoria Beckham, Zimmerman and Camilla – although not couturiers and can be afforded by a lot more people than Haute Couture, still offer a sense of luxury and higher status to their clients, as opposed to highly disposable and cheap high street brands clothing such as H&M, Zara and Topshop.

I hope you found this helpful! ❤

XXX Maria

*Quote: Langley, William, 2010. Haute Couture: Making a loss is a height of fashion.

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