Byline: Miles Socho
While it’s anachronistic in a high tech, mass-produced world, haute couture not only soldiers on, it’s picking up a few new converts along the way.
“It’s totally recession-proof, because it’s not only a question of money, but a question of people who have tasted the exceptional,” said Francoise Montenay, president of Chanel. “And once they have tasted it, they do not want to give it up.”
Christian Dior is just as bullish. The house posted a “double-digit” increase in couture sales last year and is budgeting the same for this year, according to president Sidney Toledano.
Even escalating concerns about an economic slowdown in the U.S. can’t dim the enthusiasm of the couture houses. Any slack in demand from the U.S., they say, will be taken up by other countries. Toledano agreed and said the number of customers for couture, especially for wedding gowns and evening dresses, is expanding in South America, the Middle East and Europe.
During the Nineties, couture got a fresh injection of creativity from designers like John Galliano at Dior and Alexander McQueen at Givenchy, who entered the arena after years in ready-to-wear. As a result, many houses have seen their rtw customers trading up to couture for exceptional occasions. “You have more and more occasional clients for couture, who are attracted more by the designers than couture itself,” said Didier Grumbach, president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture. “We’ve come back to the period where couture has to be creative to be meaningful.” He estimates regular couture clients number only in the hundreds, while occasional buyers represent thousands of women.
Although couture suits start at about $10,000 and exceptional evening dresses run as much as $300,000, Grumbach said prices haven’t been greatly inflated since the Fifties, when couture cost roughly four times the price of luxury rtw. Marie Martinez, couture director at Christian Lacroix, noted that the devotees see value in couture because they wear it a great deal and often buy additional pieces to get more mileage out of outfits they own. Sometimes, even luxury addicts have to economize.