In the atelier of her Paris design house, Anne Valérie Hash watches intently as a seamstress fastens an embroidered silk belt to a dark blue gown with a plunging neckline. Hash's first haute couture runway show is 15 hours away, and the room hums with the sound of sewing machines and hissing steam irons as the 35-year-old designer and her staff make final alterations.
Hash stands at the threshold of the fashion world's most exclusive club. Only 14 houses, including such legendary names as Chanel, Christian Dior, and Valentino, are officially recognized as creators of haute couture—one-of-a-kind garments produced with exquisite attention to detail and selling for $25,000 and up. Each spring, up to 20 aspiring designers are invited to present their own collections during summer haute couture week in Paris. Hash is one of this year's invited.