In French, "haute" means high or elegant, and "couture" means sewing or needlework. Haute couture fashion refers to first-class, top-of-the-line clothing. Its pieces are commissioned and custom-designed to fit a client's body and posture. Haute couture designers use only the finest fabrics and materials, which are often painstakingly hand-sewn for over 100 hours, depending on the garment. Haute couture is usually only worn by the very wealthy.
Furs are some of the most expensive fabrics in fashion. Used most commonly for jackets, hats, boots and handbags, their use is controversial because they are only available at the expense of animals' lives. PETA has openly protested against the use of animal fur in fashion, but many designers like Georges Kaplan, Bergdorf Goodman and Chanel continue to use animal furs. Mink, chinchilla, snake, crocodile, rabbit, zebra and leopard are only a few of the many animal furs used for haute couture.
First harvested and worn by the royalty of ancient China, silk has always been affiliated with the wealthy. A delicate, sleek and shiny material, silk is used by many designers, including Betsey Johnson and Valentino, for elegant gowns and accessories. Real silk is made by silkworms. Silkworms are harvested and allowed to spin a cocoon. Once their cocoon is finished, like the animals used for furs, they are killed. The cocoons are then boiled and the silk is unraveled and sewn together into fabric. Since the production of real silk takes time and requires specific conditions, the finished fabric is very expensive.
Cashmere is a soft, strong fiber that is lightweight and warm. It is used in haute couture winter-wear like sweaters, scarves and hats. When goats shed their hair in the spring, fur from their underbellies is collected and spun into yarn and different fabrics. The underbelly fur is long and softer than the rest of their fur, which is also used as wool. Haute couture cashmere uses only the underbelly fur that is not mixed with other strands of wool.
The most used and versatile clothing fabric, cotton is also used in haute couture for soft pieces like T-shirts, pants and undergarments. Egyptian and Pima cottons are the most luxurious of the cottons. Their threads are longer, softer and more absorbent than lower grades of cotton, which makes them more expensive. Egyptian cotton is similar to Pima cotton. The only difference is that Egyptian threads are slightly longer and grown in Egypt. Pima cotton is grown in the United States, Peru and Australia.
Leather is a durable, high-quality material acquired by the tanning of animal hides. The animal skin is soaked in tannin solution and left to dry. The solution changes the structure of the animal skin, turning it into a flexible, wearable fiber. Many different animal leathers are used by haute couture designers, depending on the article of clothing they are making. Stronger leathers like cowhide and alligator are used for shoes and boots. Softer leathers like lamb and deer are made into more delicate items like women's jackets, handbags and even gowns.