What is Haute Couture? Some say its the crazy designs you wouldn't normally wear, but that are the inspiration for the season's trends and styles. Some say its a form of art and expression. In France, "Haute Couture" is a term and concept that is defined and protected by the law (its serious fashion!). Only a select list of designers and houses can call themselves Haute Couture. To be considered HC, the designer must follow a few rules: design custom, fitted clothing for private clients; have an atelier (workshop) in Paris (employing 15 people); and have a fashion show every season with a minimum of 35 separate day and night outfits. The term Haute Couture has been widely misused for unusual and expensive fashions, but basically, it like a bespoke suit: hand made with extraordinary attention to detail, quality fabrics and expert sewing techniques.
Understandably, Haute Couture, though extremely expensive, is not very profitable, thus many fashion houses have abandoned Haute Couture in favour of Prêt-à-Porter, the ready to wear or "off-the-rack" clothing that you can get at department stores.
Here is a list and some pictures of current members of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture: