What’s not in doubt is that haute couture – the term translates as “high sewing” – is a spectacular anachronism. Colossal in its costs, tiny in its clientele and questionable in its influence, it still remains one of the great themes of Parisian life. [...] At this stratospheric peak of the rag trade, many designers never even meet the women who buy their clothes. Some are known only by numbered codes, do their buying through intermediaries and settle their bills from Swiss bank accounts.Quotes from a good primer from London's Telegraph newspaper on the issues surrounding the couture segment of the fashion industry today.
To qualify as couture, a garment must be entirely hand-made by one of the 11 Paris couture houses registered to the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. Each house must employ at least 20 people, and show a minimum of 75 new designs a year. So far, so stirringly traditional, but the Big Four operators – Chanel, Dior, Givenchy and Gaultier – increasingly use couture as a marketing device for their far more profitable ready-to-wear, fragrance and accessory lines.
Personally, while I love Chanel I can't understand why someone would buy something minimalist like this black dress from their haute couture collection rather than something similar that is RTW. And perhaps that should be part of the conversation about couture - whether couture garments have the responsibility to be more extravagant. fashion-forward, and fantastically detailed if they are meant to inspire sales of other (relatively inexpensive) products, or if it is just the conditions of production and exclusivity of sale that defines the genre.