Byline: Dianne M. Pogoda

NEW YORK--It's opera time at Saks Fifth Avenue.
The retailer is staging its semiannual "opera show" tour, which brings a fashion show of top evening looks to 13 cities to coordinate with the social season of each area. The tour kicked off last week in San Francisco and Beverly Hills, and generated more than $800,000, according to Vincent Knoll, director of couture for Saks.
The show originated in San Francisco about 10 years ago, to supply women with opening-night outfits for the opera and symphony. It has been hitting 13 cities for the past two or three years.
It differs from a single-designer trunk show, Knoll explained, because it features many designers and stock merchandise, not special orders.
"It's a sampling of the looks that Saks has bought for the season, and allows our customers to see them all at once instead of over three months," he said. "Our customers buy the clothes right from the floor, if they have been delivered, or reserve what they want from an upcoming delivery. We will make a special order if we're out of their size."
In San Francisco, receipts hit $525,000, and in Beverly Hills, sales reached $315,000.
Top looks in both cities included a black taffeta ball gown from Valentino at $9,300; Christian Lacroix's gypsy looks, including full skirts with weskit top at $6,800; black cocktail suits by Thierry Mugler at $2,700; Pamela Dennis black wool evening suits with pleated skirts at $3,600; short dresses in various colors from Hervé Leger at $3,600; a black velvet gown with red satin inset from Carolina Herrera at $3,400; a Revillon black broadtail and chiffon evening dress at $3,600, and a reversible mink and damask jacket at $12,500 and coat at $23,000 from Gianfranco Ferré.
The spring and fall rounds generate some $5 million to $6 million for Saks annually.
"In each city, the show has a different name, depending on which charity we're tied into," he said. In Houston, for example, it's the Maestro show, since it benefits the Houston Symphony. Funds are raised in a variety of ways, such as ticket sales to the fashion show or a silent auction.
Among the perennial top-selling names are Mary McFadden, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino and Hervé Leger.
"It's also the best way to test the waters with new design talent," Knoll said. Some of the designers that are with the tour for their first or second season include James Purcell, Donald Deal, Heidi Weisel, Eric Gaskins and John Galliano.
"It's a great way to gauge consumer reaction to a young designer across the country," he said, "and it also shows whether their clothes can stand up to those of world-class designers."
While the fall show features eveningwear, the spring edition offers evening and daywear.
Knoll said the show does not take place at the Manhattan flagship because the market here is saturated with single-designer trunk shows.

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