By and and  on July 6, 2009

PARIS — Do dresses with six-figure price tags have a place in fashion magazines at a time of economic crisis?

And can couture have a bright future when one of its most acclaimed practitioners, Christian Lacroix, is in receivership?

Those are among the questions weighing on the industry as the high fashion shows get under way here today.

Still, executives cite an expanding global clientele for couture and continued press interest, albeit now skewed to emerging markets.

What’s more, couture’s remaining players (not surprisingly) insist the pinnacle of fashion’s pyramid is still relevant as it exemplifies savoir faire, craftsmanship and elite service: virtues that have come to the fore of consumer consciousness after an overdose of hype and bling during the luxury boom.

“It is a powerful tool to educate the customer about our brand,” stressed Bruno Pavlovsky, president of fashion at Chanel, which will parade Karl Lagerfeld’s latest collection to about 900 guests under the soaring glass roof of the Grand Palais at sundown Tuesday. “In couture, the objective is to be perfect. There’s no compromise on excellence.”

“There is a demand for sophistication,” agreed Sidney Toledano, president and chief executive officer at Christian Dior, which is staging two shows today in its salons on the Avenue Montaigne. “It’s about the real value of names like Dior: the savoir faire, the notoriety of our atelier.…This contact between the hand and the fabric — inspired by a great designer — is something important we have to continue developing.”

Toledano said his main concern is preserving the artisans and suppliers that nurture couture — not the small number of big players. “It doesn’t mean because you are few, you have to stop doing it,” he said.

Pavlovsky called 2008 a “record year” for Chanel’s couture business, with a 10 percent sales uptick over the previous year. Sales for the white-themed summer 2009 collection slipped about 15 percent, reflecting recessionary times, but hardly prompting alarm.

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