High fashion hit new lows in 2004, with stalwarts Emanuel Ungaro, Versace and Hanae Mori all bidding farewell to the couture runway. Despite their shrinking brethren, Christian Dior and Chanel vowed to soldier on, insisting couture is too vital for their image to leave behind. Yet uncertainties prevailed. In November, money-losing Jean Paul Gaultier announced plans to restructure its business in a bid to save its seven-year-old couture business. In recent years, Yves Saint Laurent and Balmain also ceased couture activities. Still, some remain optimistic, with Didier Grumbach, head of France’s Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, insisting young designers would continue to be attracted to the rarified world. And the sector did get a boost last week, as Giorgio Armani said he will stage an off-calendar show for 300 special guests, including VIP clients, on Jan. 24 during Paris Couture Week.

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