Because the haute couture label is legally protected and designated by the French Ministry of Industry, fashion houses must be approved annually by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in order to qualify as members. Needless to say, not all designers who’ve made the cut stay there forever. With causes ranging from retirement to the financial crisis, here are five big names who’ve gone in and out — and some, back in again — to the rarefied world of haute couture:
1. Versace: Among the requirements for official haute couture are twice-yearly Paris press presentations. Versace took a break from these beginning in 2004, though the house never stopped producing what it considers its couture collection. On January 23, however, they’re back on the calendar of Paris shows, making the line officially haute once again.
2. Christian Lacroix: Christian Lacroix, founded in 1986, was the last haute couture house established under the Chambre Syndicale’s official rules — sadly, Lacroix was forced to discontinue the line in 2009, owing to the world financial crisis (though in fact the house had never turned a profit). Lacroix broke all ties with his eponymous company and the pret-a-porter label is now by headed by Sacha Walckhoff, a former member of the design team.
3. Yves Saint Laurent: Saint Laurent’s Rive Gauche ready-to-wear line was passed first to Alber Elbaz, then Tom Ford, and finally to Stefano Pilati, its current designer, but when Yves Saint Laurent himself fully retired, in 2002, he shuttered the haute couture arm of his business. The act — and the public mourning at the loss — lends credence to haute couture’s highly regulated stature and to the regard in which it’s held.
4. Paco Rabanne: It was neither a poor economy nor permanent retirement that caused Rabanne to close his couture doors. Instead, the designer decided, in 1999, that haute couture just didn’t have a place in the new millennium. He discontinued the line to focus instead on his overall brand, which includes ready-to-wear, accessories, and fragrances.
5. Valentino: Valentino is notable for having its designer, Valentino Garavani, retire without a break in the house’s couture business. The reins were passed to Alessandra Facchinetti, who was let go after two seasons, and were subsequently given to two former Valentino accessories designers, but the line’s production (and status as a correspondent member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture) never ceased.