- the designers had to have a "suitable" presence in Paris. They didn't want a Walmart couture house -- these places were special, and if you aren't in Paris, you couldn't be considered haute couture. If you were in Paris, your place would have to be high end, and reflect your own personality - tasteful but expensive!
- collections were shown twice a year, and had to have 75 designs, by either the designer or his assistants. Think about that. 75 designs. That's a lot of work! These designs are usually, to a large degree, hand sewn, hand beaded, perhaps hand embroidered, and can take weeks to create. Makes my fingers sore just thinking of it!
- collections were shown in spring and fall, on dates that the Chambre Syndicale chose. This was the beginning of the concept of Fashion Week, which is still observed today. This helped to keep one designer from "borrowing" from another, and kept shady people from knocking off the designs.
- couture designs are not off the rack! They are made to measure, and the CS required at least three fittings of each garment. Fittings might be coordinated by a vendeuse (saleswoman), or perhaps by the designer himself. The end result was a garment that fit like a glove.
- A couture garment, in the end, is only 2-3% machine sewn. The remaining 97-98% is all hand rendered, including beading and embroidery.
Couture houses also had daily shows in the afternoons, which could be attended by private customers, by invitation only. After the show, customers were given the opportunity to view garments close up or by trying them on, all in the comfort of the designer's actual salon. Talk about service!
Keep in mind that haute couture garments were not necessarily made with the idea of someone actually wearing them. Some were made as concept garments, and others were made simply to draw attention (and income) to the house, so it was not unusual to see over the top designs. Couture houses employed dozens or, in the case of Dior, hundreds of employees, each of whom had a specific job: sewing a seam, beading, embroidery, fitting, etc. It could take years to work up through the ranks if you wanted a promotion.
Dress above by Jean Desses, 1953