What is High Fashion? The Difference between Prêt-à-Porter and Haute Couture

High fashion is widely covered. However, it isn’t exactly defined a lot of the time.




High fashion is often mixed up with haute couture and pret-a-porter, but they are two different things.


Haute Couture

Haute Couture, pronounced oot-coo-ture, is a direct translation of high fashion, or high dressmaking in French. This concept was created by Charles Frederick Worth in the 19th century. The clothes they produce are one of a kind pieces that are made to suit one individual and is produced after at least one fitting for measurements. These pieces are extremely detailed and are of high quality as they are produced by hand, taking about 100 to 400 hours to make one piece, which explains the high price point in Haute Couture. Thus with these two points, it is understandable that there is approximately only 4000 clients for haute couture worldwide. However, sometimes designers rent out pieces for Hollywood stars: think Kim Kardashian with Mugler.


There are specific rules regulated by the Paris Chamber of Commerce, and become members of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture who have the right to be able to call their work Haute Couture:

  • They must design made to order pieces for private clients with more than one fitting

  • Have an atelier (uh TEH li ay) with 15 full time staff members in Paris, and at least 20 full time technical staff working at the atelier

  • Participate in the Spring/Summer presented in January and Fall/Winter presented in July fashion shows each year with at least 50 unique individual pieces with day and evening pieces

By following these strict regulations protected by French law, those deemed to be high fashion would be put on the official haute couture schedule.


Prêt-à-Porter

Prêt-à-Porter, pronounced pret-ah-pohtay, is French for ready to wear. High fashion brands can have Prêt-à-Porter, but Prêt-à-Porter is not high fashion. This is because these products do not follow the specific rules of high fashion. These pieces are more widely available as they are factory made. Prêt-à-Porter clothing are of high quality, but are produced at a larger scale with standard sizing rather than tailored sizing like Haute Couture. This allows a wider market to consume and wear high end luxury brands. Although Prêt-à-Porter can be inspired by high fashion collections, their pieces are more fit for every day wear compared to Haute Couture pieces that tend to be more like artworks.


Yves Saint Laurent was the first major designer who presented Prêt-à-Porter on the runway during the sixties. He faced some backlash amongst the Haute Couture community; however, high fashion brands have moved away from dismissing Prêt-à-Porter to seeing it more as an opportunity for brands to exhibit their work and get the masses to wear their clothing for profit and marketing.


While Prêt-à-Porter collections are showcased more often than Haute Couture as they are showcased during the regular Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter, but it also has a few other seasons such as the Resort and Cruise collections which anticipate the trends for the summer months, Pre-fall, which showcase pieces that are warmer than summer collections but thinner than the Fall/Winter collections. Prêt-à-Porter fashion shows are done during what is commonly known as Fashion Week, held in various cities like London, New York, Paris and Milan. These shows are less exclusive compared to Haute Couture shows as they are more catered to the mass public, and it is a chance for designers to increase their visibility.