DIOR'S COUTURE CRUSADER

Byline: Bridget Foley

NEW YORK--There's plenty of activity at Christian Dior these days, much of it focused on the U.S.
Gianfranco Ferre will hit town just in time for the opening of the couture show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Monday. While seven Dior frocks are in the exhibition, it's really just a warmup for next year, when the entire exhibition will focus on the work of Christian Dior, from 1947-1957.
On Monday, Ferre will host an exclusive spring/summer trunk show at the Dior boutique here, a first for the designer. That shop is soon to be renovated according to a prototype by interior designer Jacques Granges, a plan which will eventually be installed in all Dior boutiques worldwide.
This focus on ready-to-wear here coincides with a similar push on the couture level. According to the house of Dior, the couture business is doing just fine--in down-and-dirty Gotham, no less.
This fall, the house dispensed a delegation from Paris armed with 14 massive trunks and a mission--to hawk that haute. The week was booked solid, and most clients are receiving their clothes just in time for the holidays.
It was the first trans-Atlantic crossing of a Dior couture collection since 1991. But in the pedigree-eat-pedigree world of multiple fittings and five-figure price tags--other houses routinely bring their collections here to sell--that just didn't make sense. At least not to Caroline Grouvel, Dior's Haute Diva, who joined the house in January.
"When I joined the company," Grouvel recalled, "I said to Monsieur FerrA, 'I think we should go to New York...the New Yorkers--they need us.'
"The couture [showing] is not always very suitable with the busy schedule of the American woman," continued Grouvel, whose title is directress of the prestige. "If they know we're coming here, they don't have to come to Paris."
Monsieur was obviously convinced. The house took a suite at the Carlyle Hotel and Grouvel arrived with an entourage that included Claude Laurent, the premier atelier and 40-year Dior employee, retiring this year, and Princess Beatrice d'Orleans, who "represents Dior in Spain."
Judging from Grouvel's schedule, they all must have had a bon voyage; Grouvel & Co. were booked solid throughout the week. But other than saying that suits were the biggest bookers, she wouldn't discuss exactly what was purchased or by whom, much less how much was paid for it.
"It's very difficult to answer this question because when you talk about the couture, you know, the prices depend...When you calculate a price for somebody, you calculate the exact fabric you need, the exact count you need, and if there are embroideries..."
But she eventually cut to the chase. "Price is something the couturiers don't like to talk about. This is the point."
Grouvel also invoked discretion when queried about her client list. "As I told you concerning the price, this is a subject you don't discuss, you want to preserve your client. The couture client is somebody who trusts you, she is not somebody who wants everybody to know she is buying couture. We at Christian Dior are very respectful of the identity of the customers. This is something I never answer. I am sorry, but first of all the clients. The clients first."
And the clients can be tough. Grouvel said most of them know exactly what they want--and they hold out for it. "Yes, they are very demanding. And they are right to demand that much. They are very patient because you know, we need them to wait for the suit or the dress. This is a common quality--they all together have patience. They don't come in here, flip and say 'I want it.' It takes time."
"They're very special, haute couture clients," added Princess Beatrice. "They want something, and they have a very clear idea. They usually have a lot of personality, especially the American ones--women who get up at 6:00 or 6:30 in the morning--they're very active. They do not stay in their beds all day long. They move, they see people, so they need clothes. They want to be comfortable."
To wit, suits are the runaway bestsellers for fall. But Grouvel noted there are still some women who want grand evening dresses--one client was being fitted in sinewy blue velvet and feathers.
"Here in New York, you have grand openings and charity galas and sometimes you need to be in a gown. But often, even if they have an invitation saying black tie, they go in a short dress. In France, it's more or less the same."
In her role of directress of the prestige, Grouvel oversees three separate ateliers: couture, haute furs and hats. She is the primary contact with clients as well as the couture's chief salesperson, although she cringes at so indiscreet a term.
Grouvel said she has established a good rapport with Ferre, and discussed the fall collection with him while he was working on it--"in terms of explaining what the clients wishes are," she said. "My description of Monsieur Ferre is someone who's very adorable and with whom you can easily get into conversation."
He's also more than willing to put in a personal appearance, if it will help a sale. "When a client would really like to see Monsieur Ferre and we would like to make an appointment with him, he always comes down," Grouvel says. "Everything has to be perfect. And I want it perfect."

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