PARIS — Will couture’s hand-rendered and delicate seams be able to withstand the economic crisis?
So far, so good, say executives, who anticipate no drop in client attendance — though hardly an avalanche of orders — as the high fashion shows get under way here today.
“The growth will be lower in 2009, but we are expecting growth,” said Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s president of fashion, which posted a double-digit sales rise in couture last year, selling more units of its summer and winter collections. “We are quite confident; we aren’t specifically anxious about the business.
“If (clients) are coming, they want to continue to be part of the dream,” he said in an interview, sounding upbeat and serene. “I believe a lot in couture because of the creativity and because of the very special service we can give to the customer.”
“We had double-digit growth and the second half of the year was good,” echoed Sidney Toledano, president and chief executive officer at Christian Dior. “I believe that in this world you still have people looking for the exceptional — extraordinary materials and exceptional designs, custom-made by an atelier in Paris.”
Toledano said Dior couturier John Galliano, who in the past had staged fantastical shows with extreme silhouettes, has since 2007 returned to “really interpreting the Dior codes and the Dior cuts, and this has been impacting the sales.”
To be sure, couture has been riding high in recent years as the luxury boom — and an influx of younger clients from a range of emerging countries — kept the remaining handful of practitioners running at full capacity. Executives allowed that the financial crisis could cast some chill on the uppermost slice of the fashion business, and voiced caution while underscoring the positive trends.
“In the past three years, we have seen many new customers from all parts of the world, not only the U.S. and Europe — from China, for example,” Pavlovsky said.
Fabrizio Malverdi, president and ceo of Givenchy, reported an 80 percent increase in its couture revenues last year as Riccardo Tisci’s design imprint helped the brand gain traction. An increase of 20 percent is forecast for 2009, he said, noting the majority of its customers are based in the Middle East. Malverdi also noted new couture clients could be existing ready-to-wear clients looking to trade up, or someone intrigued after seeing a celebrity wearing a couture garment on the red carpet.
A spokesperson for the Giorgio Armani Privé couture collection cited an increase in clients from the Middle East over the past two years, but noted it is “difficult to predict how the American sales will fare. Nevertheless, we have had a positive response in confirming our regular and new clients to the show….The couture business has performed well even in the past two seasons.”
“We have a nice carryover of orders into 2009,” noted Nicolas Topiol, chief executive officer at Christian Lacroix. “It’s performing quite well relative to ready-to-wear and retail, which both suffered at the end of 2008. We have a pretty stable clientele and we’ve gained some new clients. I’m not too worried.”
The global pool of couture clients remains small, numbering in the hundreds, meaning even one new client can turn the tide. “You do a big wedding, and your business is there,” said Lacroix’s Topiol. Topiol allowed that orders from American clients could drop, given the scale of the financial crisis there, but new clients from Japan and China might pick up the slack.
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