A grand couturier is a fashion designer that has been inducted into the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture — a French federation that means "trade union of high fashion." In order to become a member, the grand couturier must be the head of a haute couture — highly tailored fashion — house and show his or her new collections in Paris at least twice a year. Members of this union often change and rotate, as the Chambre selects high-fashion designers who have significantly contributed to recent fashions in every aspect.
While their designs are not purchased by the general population, most people are able to recognize names of grand couturiers. Winter 2010 official grand courtiers include international high-profile names such as Givenchy, Chanel, Christian Dior, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Dominique Sirop. Often, such haute couture names and fashions are featured in popular beauty and fashion magazines, including Vogue, InStyle, and Elle.
Grand couturiers first began making money by selling pieces specifically designed and tailored for prestigious clients, such as royalty, actresses, and wives of esteemed business execs. Generally though, grand courtiers have become known for showing each season’s fashion line at one of the six distinguished fashion weeks in Milan, Paris, Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, or London. While these styles eventually affect the coming year’s trends, runway show outfits are not typically for sale, and they do not actually create direct revenue for the designers. Rather, runway shows create appeal for the grand couturier by showcasing his or her work and bridging a path for the designer’s ready-to-wear collection.
The first grand couturier is said to be Charles Frederick Worth, a 19th century English designer who became famous while working for the French fashion industry. Occasionally dubbed the father of haute couture, Worth invented the bustle and is also the first known designer to hold an actual presentation of his design collection. As models displayed his work, buyers would purchase Worth’s designs to copy and sell from another location. It was in this manner that women who admired Worth’s style, but were not able to visit or afford his showroom fashions, were still able to follow trends.
Generally, the term haute couture was first used to describe work reminiscent of Worth’s, though in modern times it is a term legally protected by the Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie de Paris. While many people use the term haute couture interchangeably with high fashion, the terms are not synonymous. To technically be labeled as producing haute couture, the fashion house must be mentioned on the current list of the Members of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. Thus, members of this federation may call themselves official grands couturiers.