An haute couture fashion designer is responsible for designing individualized, custom clothing for elite clientele. Clients are taken one at a time, and are given undivided attention. Designs are conceptualized and constructed according to a client's exact measurements, style, preferences, and personality. Each piece is made by hand from start to finish from expensive and high-quality fabric, and sewn with extreme attention to detail by the best seamstresses and embroiderers in the world. Considering the amount of time, money, and skill needed to complete each piece, haute couture garments typically have no price tag.
Many haute couture fashion houses are in Paris, France. According to Wikipedia, "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. The chambre syndicale de la haute couture is defined as "the regulating commission that determines which fashion houses are eligible to be true haute couture houses".
More rigorous criteria for haute couture were established in 1945. 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 specific rules:
- design made-to-order for private clients, with one or more fittings
- have a workshop (atelier) in Paris that employs at least fifteen staff members full-time
- have at least twenty full-time technical people, in at least one workshop (atelier)
- present a collection of at least fifty original designs to the public every fashion season (twice, in January and July of each year), of both day and evening garments."
In the 1960s, a group of young designers left these established couture houses, opened their own establishments, and established their own lines. The most successful of these young designers were Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, André Courrèges, Ted Lapidus, and Emanuel Ungaro.
Although individualized, custom clothing for elite clientele is still going strong, today's haute couture fashion designs that are seen on runways are not particularly made to be sold or a main source of income. Rather, they are mostly for show and to further publicity, as well as perception and understanding, of brand image. This brand image adds allure to a designer's prêt-a-porter (ready-to-wear) clothing line and to related high-end products such as shoes, purses, and perfumes.