The most misused and abused words in the world of fashion are ‘Prêt-à-Porter’ and ‘Haute Couture’.
While these terms are casually thrown around by even the most seasoned designers, there are indeed very specific meanings to the two. Read on to find the real difference between Prêt-à-Porter and Haute Couture.
Firstly, it’s important to know the literal meanings behind these pretty sounding French phrases. ‘Prêt-à-Porter quite literally means ‘Ready-to-Wear’. ‘Haute Couture’ is generally used to deem anything ‘High Fashion’. This isn’t too far off, as Haute Couture means ‘high sewing’ or ‘high dressmaking’.
Every Haute Couture piece is made to measure for a single client. The client comes to the Parisian atelier for measurements and fittings. This points to the fact that every Haute Couture piece is tailored to the individual client, both in style and size.
Haute Couture fashion is deemed highest quality and highest price. While this may reign true the majority of the time, there are actually specific standards that a piece much reach to be deemed ‘Couture ’. Vogue once described Couture pieces as ‘walking pieces of art’. Indeed this is true. Haute Couture pieces are designed to be worn by a few clients, if not only one. Regardless of how exclusive a piece is, it is not Haute Couture until the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture crowns it so. Upon the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture’s approval, a fashion house is considered Haute Couture by French law. This is no easy feat, as there are strict criteria a fashion house must meet to even be considered. Firstly, a fashion house must have a workshop in Paris that employs at least fifteen full-time staff members. The fashion house must design made-to-order pieces for clients with at least one fitting, These standards ensure that Haute Couture labels deliver impeccably tailored pieces that will be an exact and perfect fit for the client. Understandably, there are only fifteen Haute Couture studios in Paris today, including Chanel and Dior.
Prêt-à-Porter is high quality, factory made fashion. While Prêt-à-Porter is not necessarily mass produced, it is available to a wide variety of customers. These collections are made for many customers in different sizes. While they range in price and quality, the overarching characteristic is that these collections are designed within the bounds of standardized sizing. These pieces are not meant to fit perfectly or require a tailor. They simply fit the majority of people fairly well.
Haute Couture pieces are highest quality pieces. All handmade, these pieces are made to measure and require much skill and time. As such, this level of quality means high prices and high-end customers. In other words, customers of Haute Couture pieces are generally in the top percentile of wealth, as Haute Couture is the highest you can pay within the fashion industry.
Haute Couture houses create a collection every summer and winter season. These collections often set the stage for future fashion trends within the Prêt-à-Porter collections, as these collections often take inspiration from high fashion.
Usually Prêt-à-Porter is available twice a year. Prêt-à-Porter collections are more often available pre-seasonally, catering to climate and economic changes. These collections are not made to order. The rate at which fashion companies are able to produce Ready-to-Wear collections varies from Haute Couture in that Ready-to-Wear collections are produced at faster rates, in higher quantities. While they may be of high quality and take inspiration from Haute Couture lines, these collections lack the exclusivity of Haute Couture. Customers could find these pieces for example in retail or online shops.
3. Runway Shows
Haute Couture houses are committed to present collections twice a year of at least 35 pieces, both day and evening wear. These collections are presented every 6 months, half a year in advance. For example, the summer collection of an Haute Couture house will be presented in Paris in January, while the Winter collection will be presented in July. Haute Couture shows are artistic spectacles. With elaborate sets and invite-only guest lists, these shows are as exclusive as the Haute Couture pieces themselves.
Prêt-à-Porter fashion shows are presented one year in advance; for example, the Winter 2016 collection was presented in Winter of 2015. Haute Couture brands, such as Chanel and Dior, often present a Prêt-à-Porter line. These collections are presented during fashion week, a period of time when every name in fashion gathers in specific cities. The most famous of these weeks take place in New York, Paris, Milan, and London. Prêt-à-Porter shows are often elaborate and artistic as well, with exclusive guest lists for celebrities, press and fashion bloggers.
Text by Cassandra Fisher, production and copy edit: Antonia Böhlke