No, it’s not haute couture!

Actress Jennifer Lawrence wears a Dior Haute Couture dress, Chopard jewels, Roger Vivier clutch, and Brian Atwood shoes.

Actress Jennifer Lawrence wears a Dior Haute Couture dress, Chopard jewels, Roger Vivier clutch, and Brian Atwood shoes.

Published Apr 19, 2013


Durban - Chanel, Christian Dior, Christian Lacroix, Emanuel Ungaro, Givenchy and Jean Paul Gaultier are among the few haute couture fashion houses in the world.

Some estimates suggest that less than a 1 000 women on the planet can afford a haute couture garment. But you wouldn’t have guessed that the way the word is bandied about locally.

Contrary to use by local designers and media alike “couture” is not another, perhaps more sophisticated sounding word, for fashion.Nor is it a couture garment simply a custom-made one.


The right to the French title of couturier is, in fact, granted by the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, after a designer has fulfilled certain strict criteria such as maintaining at least one atelier (workshop) in Paris.

Fashion houses such as Chanel have several ateliers with more than 100 staff, while smaller design houses struggle with the heavy financial burden of maintaining the required staff.

The clothes must be entirely made-to-order, and partial pre-cutting or assembling is verboten. These clothes are painstakingly made to measure.

Furthermore, a couturier must show at least twice a year in Paris.


South African designer Marian Fassler says she is particular about the language of fashion.

“I’ve found that most people who use the word ‘couture’ don’t know what it means,” she says.

“Despite the French licensing, our garments, by the manner in which they are made, are not couture.

“Couture is handmade, usually by one person from start to finish. There are numerous traditions. At Chanel they can tell you precisely how many stitches go into one jacket for instance.

“While in South Africa we have many good designers who make beautiful clothes, none of these are couture. At best we have many bespoke garments,” she says.

While it may sound like semantics to the outsider, it is an error on our part, particularly embarrassing when one operates in a global arena.

According to the information provided on, a house like Dior will make about 20 couture bridal gowns a year.

The fabrics available to the couture house would be very luxurious and include the latest novelty fabrics and expensive silks, fine wools, cashmeres, cottons, linens, leather, suede, other skins or furs. In the case of a famous design house the design and colour of a cloth may be exclusively reserved for that couture house.

Outside specialists make accessories either by design or inspiration. Hats, trimmings, buttons, belts, costume jewellery, shoes and innovative pieces are finely crafted to complement the fabrics and fashion ideas being created.

Superb craftsmanship, a fresh idea and publicised internationally renowned names all command a price to match. Those able to afford couture are happy to pay for exclusivity and the privacy afforded by the system.

The client pays for service, workmanship, originality of a unique design and superb materials of the finest quality.

In addition, the client would get a perfection of fit only achieved by painstaking methods of cutting and fitting to the client’s body.

Even huge design houses such as Dior could not survive on making haute couture garments alone. They create them for the status involved, but for business they produce ready-to-wear lines of clothing as well as perfumes, bags and the like that are driven by their haute couture status.

South African designer Amanda Laird Cherry wrote her final year paper on a similar topic.

She suggested finding another word for what we view as high-end fashion, if we can’t simply call it that.

“We must acknowledge the great talent we have in South Africa. It may not be haute couture, but there certainly are those a cut above the rest.” - Mercury

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