High fashion, also known as Haute Couture, which means high sewing or high dressmaking, refers to the creation of exclusive and custom-made garments that have a unique fashion design. Its construction only involves handmade processes from the beginning until the end.

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How did it start?

Haute couture started in Paris, still known today as one of the most influential fashion capitals of the world. The beginning of high fashion started in the mid-nineteenth century when Paris was becoming the centre of this growing industry and the luxurious demand for high-end garments.

High fashion was only creating garments for one specific individual and always using the best materials and hand-sewers that were available in a specific fashion house.

Each fashion house or brand had its own protected name and well-defined standards. More rigorous criteria for high fashion were established in 1945:

  • 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 20 full-time technical people, in at least one workshop; and
  • present a collection of at least 50 original designs to the public every fashion season (twice, in January and July of each year), of both day and evening garments.

Today, haute couture is protected by law and is defined by the Chamber of commerce and industry of Paris. This means that there is a specific regulation to be considered a high fashion brand, which is dictated and defined by a regulatory commission.

High Fashion vs. Fast Fashion

However, the term high fashion can also be used in a broader sense to describe high-fashion, custom-fitted clothing produced in the fashion capitals Milan, Paris, or New York. It can be used to refer not only to fashion houses but also to fashion designers that create exclusive or often trend-setting fashion garments.

This is where fast fashion brands appear because it is very difficult to afford high fashion and trendy garments, fast fashion replicates them in mass production and sold them at a very low cost. There are several problems involved in the business model of fast fashion at a social and environmental level, where the costs are high for developing countries. This is why it has become more urgent and important than ever to break up with fast fashion!

High Fashion Brands

design
High fashion designs are unique and exclusive. Source Unsplash

1. Chanel

Chanel S.A. is a French luxury fashion house specializing in haute couture and ready-to-wear clothing, handbags, sunglasses, footwear, cosmetics, fragrance, jewellery, belts and small leather goods. Chanel was founded in Paris in 1909 as the “House of Chanel” by Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, a former singer and fashion designer.

Coco Chanel made elegant, minimalistic clothes for women, which grew in popularity as ladies moved away from the excessive, maximalist designs of the 19th century.

2. Gucci

Gucci is an Italian luxury fashion brand founded by Guccio Gucci in Tuscany in 1921.

The house went on to become Italy's top-selling label and has enjoyed a recent revival to become the world's most sought after millennial brand under the creative direction and fresh digital marketing strategy of Alessandro Michele, who has headed up design since 2015.

3. Louis Vuitton

Louis Vuitton Malletier - Louis Vuitton—is an esteemed French fashion house founded in Paris in 1854 by creative designer Louis Vuitton.

One of the world's leading Maisons, the brand is famous for its trademark LV monogram which appears on almost all of its products, particularly handbags for which the house is best known.

Louis Vuitton creates a vast array of lavish goods including luxury luggage, ready-to-wear clothing for women and men, bags, belts, small leather goods, jewellery, sunglasses, shoes, and stationery.

4. Hermes

Hermes International S.A. is a French high fashion luxury manufacturer with a history spanning centuries.
Founded as an equestrian accessories workshop in 1837 by Thierry Hermes, a German-French carriage maker, the company transitioned into a budding fashion house in 1918 when it created the first leather golf jacket with a zip, custom-made for Edward, Prince of Wales.

Hermes is best known for its handbags, but the brand began manufacturing them by somewhat of an accident when the director's wife complained about not finding any bags to her liking.

Today, Hermes market a huge collection of the world's most expensive and exclusive bags, including the iconic Birkin named for English actress Jane Birkin. The Hermes Kelly was christened in honour of Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco.

5. Dior

Christian Dior SE, commonly known as Dior, is a French luxury goods label primarily specializing in clothing for women, handbags, footwear, jewellery, sunglasses, fragrances, cosmetics and skin products.

Founded in Paris in 1946 by designer Christian Dior, the brand remains focused on women's wear but contemporarily branched out to create a Dior Homme collection for men. Dior was wildly popular among European royalty during the 1950s and 1960s, and modern-day designers still draw inspiration from Dior’s first evening gowns.

6. Prada

Prada S.p.A. is an Italian luxury fashion house founded in 1913 by Mario Prada. The world-famous designer specializes in leather handbags and accessories, shoes, ready-to-wear clothing for men and for women, fragrances, and cosmetics.

Mario’s granddaughter, Miuccia Prada, joined the family business in 1970 and took the helm as head designer in 1978, a position she holds to this day. Miuccia focused on creating a trademark offering for the brand, namely waterproof nylon bags, which remain hugely popular.

7. Yves Saint Laurent

Yves Saint Laurent, also known simply as Saint Laurent, is a French luxury fashion house created by a designer of the same name and his partner, Pierre Bergé. Founded in 1961, the brand revived its haute couture collection in 2015 under the artistic direction of Hedi Slimane.

8. Fendi

The house of Fendi was founded in 1925 by Italian designers Adele and Edoardo Fendi in Rome. The luxury brand creates fur, ready-to-wear clothing for women and men, small leather goods and handbags, shoes, fragrances, sunglasses, and watches. Fendi became a household name during the 1990s thanks to its tiny shoulder bag called the Baguette which has made an incredible comeback over the past two years.

fashion runway
High Fashion brands or designers need to be more involved in their production process and the textiles they use. Source Unsplash

The list could continue with brands like Versace, Armani, Burberry, Balenciaga, Valentino, and more.

High Fashion social and environmental impact

High fashion is not the same as it used to be in the mid-nineteenth century, high fashion is also part of the fashion industry and all the impacts related to it, from social to environmental challenges. Having a certification to qualify as a high fashion brand or designer does not always mean that it is ethical or sustainable!

The group that includes luxury houses such as Gucci, Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen have released sustainability reports that detail goals to use more recycled or organic materials. At the same time, the production of fossil fuel-based clothing has continued and is projected to grow in the next two decades. Oil and gas companies continue to bet on petrochemical products like polyester to drive their future growth as demand for transportation declines.

When it comes to the environmental impacts of the industry, fast fashion is often blamed. But high-end brands originate trends and generate demand for new styles, which are then mass-produced by fast fashion companies for a fraction of the cost. And they’re often made in similar factories with similar conditions–and even similar materials.

Most clothing around the world is made with polyester, the synthetic fibre derived predominantly from petroleum. It has overtaken cotton as the main textile fibre of the 21st century, ending hundreds of years of cotton’s dominance. The global market for polyester yarn is expected to grow from $106 billion in 2022 to $174.7 billion by 2032. Polyester fibre production is projected to exceed 92 million tons in the next 10 years–an increase of 47%.

There’s a reason that the fashion industry loves polyester. It’s hardy and versatile, used to create everything from athletic clothes to faux fur jackets to silky dresses. It’s been marketed as more sustainable than some natural fibres because the production process doesn’t require as much water or land as growing natural fibres like cotton.

But the problem is not only how or with what materials are high fashion being made, but also other problems:  size, racial and gender diversity. Fashion houses that want to be considered high fashion have to keep up at an elevated pace at every level and front of their garment production in order to be loved by their clients.

High fashion has to create clothes with better technology and innovation in order to sell. They also have to make partnerships with the music industry or other personalities or ambassadors of their brands which will be the face of the high fashion brand values and ideals.

A commitment to be ethical, responsible, inclusive, collaborative, immersive and accessible is a fashion statement! That is why it has become a higher fashion statement to buy from ethical and sustainable brands.

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Cloé

Franco-Mexican freelance writer. I love writing about philosophy, poetry and social justice. Hope you enjoy my articles!