PARIS — High fashion’s international push continues to bear fruit.
Although couture week in Paris, which kicks off Monday, remains a crucial moment for creative expression and brand-building, houses are increasingly banking on client-focused events in emerging markets to fuel the rare enterprise.
Consider Giorgio Armani, who took his Armani Privé collection to Beijing last May, catapulting his profile in the burgeoning region — and bumping up his client base by 10 percent.
“It really helped increase the number of couture clients we have in Asia,” Armani told WWD. “Armani Privé sales in Asia, in fact, account for 20 percent of total sales.…We are also noticing an increased interest for our Armani Privé accessory and jewelry range, which we will continue developing in 2013.”
“We are trying hard to explore emerging markets,” added Ralph Toledano, president of the fashion division at Puig, noting couture at Jean Paul Gaultier registered a “slight increase” in high-fashion sales last year, and is still largely reliant on so-called Western markets. Gaultier staged a fashion show mixing couture and ready-to-wear lines in Beijing last May, and in Cali, Colombia, last October as part of its Fenalco Fashion Week. The latter was touted as the first couture show in the country.
Toledano said Gaultier plans to focus on Greater China in 2013, spreading the couture gospel via a series of client-focused “private parties” rather than press-oriented efforts.
“It’s a more productive tool. I think the return on investment is higher in terms of business,” Toledano said. “We have always been proud to break even in couture.”
Couture’s biggest players, Chanel and Dior, reported double-digit growth in 2012, suggesting that elite clients are insulated from widespread economic turbulence, their spending power hardly blunted.
“Frankly, for us, the problem will be to have enough petites mains,” said Sidney Toledano, chief executive officer at Christian Dior, using the French term for seamstresses. “We have more orders than our capacity.”
He trumpeted a “record year” for couture with a “strong double-digit increase” as clients embraced the streamlined and modernist fashions of the house’s new creative director for women’s, Raf Simons.
Indeed, Toledano noted that Dior’s ateliers remained open through the Christmas and New Year holidays, both to fill a glut of orders and to realize new looks destined to parade in a tent in the Tuileries on Monday. Dior is planning two shows, each with about 400 guests, about half of which are clients or potential clients.
Dior reprised its spring couture show in Shanghai last May, and intends to take the collection on the road again, although the destination has yet to be disclosed.
Dior’s Toledano highlighted a strong return of American clients, in addition to wealthy consumers from emerging countries in Asia, Eastern Europe and South America.
“People are looking for quality, real creativity and modernity, which means something different, new, real and feminine,” he explained. “We are right on the target.”
Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s president of fashion, agreed couture’s allure is reaching more regions of the world, citing growth in Eastern European countries, including Russia, and many requests from South America. “Everywhere, we have people who are very interested in haute couture and understand haute couture,” he said.
Last March, Chanel reprised its spring couture show in Tokyo, complete with its jetliner set, which yielded a high level of orders, making Japan a regular pit stop for order-taking, along with New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Mainland China.
Valentino is devoting more resources to its couture operation — both in staffing and in the “richness” of the collections — deeming it “crucial” to the Rome-based fashion firm, according to ceo Stefano Sassi.
“When we want to present the real Valentino, haute couture is always top of mind,” he said, citing 2012 couture sales that were “in line” with the prior year, noting that even “one or two customers” can impact figures.
Sounding a contrarian note, Sassi said, “I still do not see a huge interest from markets like China” for deluxe women’s garments. “It’s something that will develop,” he added.
Gian Giacomo Ferraris, ceo of Versace, trumpeted “strong double-digit growth” for the Atelier Versace couture line last year, “an increase that is in line with the Versace group’s performance.”
He forecast further growth this year as the firm expands its high-jewelry offerings and welcomes clients from markets such as Brazil, Korea and Turkey, in addition to China.
Ferraris added that Versace would continue to organize trunk shows “to present the spirit of the Versace Maison — and Atelier first of all — around the world,” targeting “the most strategic markets for Versace. “
Meanwhile, couture houses continue to experiment with ways to balance their thirst for publicity with the exclusivity demanded by their clients. Many noted that looks are often customized at the request of clients.
Givenchy, which took couture off the runway in 2010 in favor of a still-life presentation, plans to sit out the couture season, while continuing to invest in the rare activity, as reported. “We’re taking a pause,” said Givenchy ceo Sebastian Suhl. “What we’re doing is a continuation of the strategy.”
He noted that not having a runway show has not dented sales progress or press coverage, and hinted that Givenchy would expose its couture on celebrities at high-profile events.
The Costume Institute ball at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in May, with Givenchy couturier Riccardo Tisci a cochair, is bound to be one of them. At the 2012 event, Givenchy dressed the likes of Beyoncé, Rooney Mara and Liv Tyler.
Suhl asserted that the unusual strategy distinguishes the house. “We’re in the process of working on many high-profile projects that will involve couture. It’s about the craft, and that chemistry created between a designer and a client or celebrity,” he said.
Suhl cited single-digit growth last year for couture. “We have a positive outlook for the entire business and also the couture,” he said, noting that emerging markets offer particular potential.
Executives detected a continued surge of newcomers from emerging markets such as India, Brazil, Indonesia and Thailand.
In yet another fashion show shuffle, @elleryland is moving its show in sync with the Paris couture calendar — though the brand is still keeping one foot on the city’s ready-to-wear schedule. Their runway show in January will coincide with the launch of a new strategy: designing two main collections each year instead of four, which will then be released in four drops. “As we all know, the system needs to change. We need to show sooner to give time back to artisans and designers to do what they do best — create,” said founder Kym Ellery. #wwdnews #wwdfashion (📷: @kukukuba)
@maxmara’s classic 101801 coat was the cornerstone of its pre-fall 2018 collection. The design team expanded the traditional double-breasted, kimono-sleeved style into a trapeze coat, lean belted styles and a peacoat and presented them in monochromatic looks – like the camel one pictured here. #wwdfashion #prefall18 (📷: George Chinsee)
The @cfda has shifted the dates of #NYFW, with Men’s showing on February 5 through February 7, and Women’s will directly follow, running from February 8 through 14. The preliminary schedule will be released on the CFDA’s web site in the next few days, but Mark Beckham, VP of marketing for the CFDA, revealed that @rafsimons will be back to close the men’s-specific part of the week with a show on February 7 #wwdfashion (📷: Kelly Taub)
@ferragamo is introducing a new space dedicated to the development of women’s and men’s leather good samples. The laboratory, which is created eco-friendly materials and designed to reduce the environmental impact of the manufacturing processes, will allow the company to expand its accessories offering through traditional artisanal approaches. #wwdfashion (📷: @aitorrosasphoto)
How does a “regular, degular, schmegular” girl from the Bronx, N.Y., become a Grammy-nominated artist with a certified platinum record in less than a year? Call it the @iamcardib come up. The 25-year-old has become a musical sensation, and the fashion world is taking note. “If I could describe her style I would say drama. She’s really into the dramatics,” says Cardi B’s stylist @kollincarter. See how Carter styles her bold and out there looks with the link in bio. #wwdfashion
“There is no formula. There is no guideline. I can watch Ted Talks all day, but there is no one who can advise me on exactly what it is I should be doing,” said @ronniefieg, CEO of @kith, in an interview with WWD’s @ariahughes at the brand’s new SoHo office in Manhattan. Head to WWD.com to see how Fieg went from hanging out in shoe stockrooms at 13 to building his own business. #wwdfashion (📷: @weston.wells)
@fearofgod and @maxfieldla have teamed up on a pop-up installation. The store, located in the gallery space across from Maxfield’s Melrose Ave location, is the site of the brand’s House of God pop-up in which Fear of God founder @jerrylorenzo has created a church-inspired installation. A dozen vintage church pews sit in front of an LED screen playing 90s gospel singers in an effort to re-create an environment akin to a Southern Baptist Church, Lorenzo explained. Read more about the pop-up on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: Jennifer Johnson)
Known for his sleek, sophisticated American glamour, Norman Norell is the subject of an upcoming exhibition at @fitnyc. “Norell: Dean of American Fashion,” which runs from February 9 through April 14, will feature approximately 100 ensembles and accessories. His best work is exemplified by the designer’s glittering “mermaid” gowns frosted with thousands of hand-sewn sequins – like the one pictured. (📷: William Helburn) #wwdfashion
For pre-fall 2018, @balmain didn’t let go of the glitz. A crystal embroidered baseball jacket priced at around $40,000 hangs in the “couture” section of the brand’s first men’s pre-collection. Sporting the words “Balmain Army” across the back, the item took around two months to make. “When it was completed, it was like Christmas, it was like, ‘It’s done, it’s exactly what I wanted,’” said Balmain’s creative director @olivier_rousteing during a tour of the collection in a Paris showroom on Monday. #wwdfashion