By  on July 2, 2007

PARIS — Couture may be a dwindling art in terms of the number of practitioners, but it's hardly down for the count.

Au contraire: The same gusher of wealth-bolstering sales of fine jewelry and five-figure handbags is fanning a boom in high fashion, with strong attendance and sales expected as couture week kicks off today with a flurry of high-octane anniversary events here and in Rome.

"With the January collection, we doubled sales," said a beaming Sidney Toledano, president of Christian Dior, marking its 60th anniversary with an extravagant show and party at Versailles this evening. "Our atelier is fully booked. We have a lot of orders to deliver."

Chanel saw its couture sales double last year, boosted by a blockbuster show featuring a 100-foot tower as its centerpiece that was reprised in Hong Kong, a move that ferreted out new high-fashion customers from South Korea, Taiwan and China.

"Altogether, it's a kind of renewal of couture," declared Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel's president of fashion. "These new clients are quite young and really wealthy. The youngest one for us is 24, so it's unique."

Most houses have been charting strong double-digit sales growth recently, fueled by a buoyant market for exceptional luxury products and the advent of an emerging clientele in Eastern Europe and Asia.

"Couture is very vibrant," said Nicolas Topiol, president of Christian Lacroix. "Last year was up about 25 to 30 percent and this year, so far, is running slightly higher. It's something a lot of people are starting to understand and appreciate." Echoing other observers, Topiol also noted a surge in requests to attend its couture show on Tuesday, which will be followed by a party at the rooftop restaurant Georges to mark the 20th anniversary of the Lacroix house.

"My feeling is that the pendulum is swinging back to couture," said Christophe Caillaud, president of Jean Paul Gaultier. "Rich clients are willing to have exclusive and exceptional products: made-to-measure and personalized. They want to have goods adapted to their specific needs and this includes, or course, couture. I therefore believe that haute couture will continue to live long."

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