PARIS — Paris Couture Week, which begins today, is back to its usual length after tacking on an extra day last season, but with its momentum intact as luxury leaders report a steady return of high spenders to the French capital.
The number of hotel arrivals in the Greater Paris region reached a record 23.1 million in 2017, with tourist numbers expected to rise by 10 to 12 percent versus 2016, a year strongly affected by the aftermath of terrorist attacks, according to the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“The outlook for 2018 indicates that this dynamic is set to continue,” it said.
The bureau made its prediction last month before a high-profile armed robbery at the Ritz Paris hotel and it was unclear whether the incident has had an impact on reservations.
Couture clients are expected to flock to the usual round of high-jewelry presentations, as well as events such as Christian Dior’s masked ball, due to be held at the Rodin Museum on Monday, and an exhibition devoted to Azzedine Alaïa, whose death in November left the fashion industry reeling.
Capping off the season will be Thursday’s Sidaction gala, the first to take place since the death of its founder, Pierre Bergé, in September.
The week marks the return to the couture calendar of Givenchy, which last showed a full collection on the runway in 2010. Clare Waight Keller, who is presenting her first couture line, plans to show designs for women and men in an intimate presentation at a yet-to-be disclosed location.
France’s Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture welcomed two new brands, Christophe Josse and Noureddine Amir, as guest members on this season’s schedule.
However Amir, whose work has been displayed at the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent in Paris, has decided to postpone his show until July. The Moroccan designer is busy preparing for an exhibition of his creations at the Musée Yves Saint Laurent in Marrakech, beginning on Feb. 23.
Among the reappointed guest members is A.F. Vandevorst. Having discontinued their ready-to-wear line last year, founders An Vandevorst and Filip Arickx are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the brand with a book launch on Wednesday, to be followed the next day by a catwalk show based on archive pieces.
The others include Proenza Schouler and Rodarte, who are again skipping New York Fashion Week to unveil their ready-to-wear in Paris. Acne Studios and Ellery are showing off-calendar, underlining the continued pull of the week, which offers the benefits of a relatively uncrowded schedule and longer production lead times.
Leading couture houses reported healthy momentum heading into the New Year, with many posting strong growth in the second half of 2017, helped by the emergence of a generation interested in acquiring the kind of unique made-to-measure creations that only Paris houses can offer.
Sidney Toledano, the outgoing chief executive officer of Christian Dior Couture, said designer Maria Grazia Chiuri’s fall collection logged one of the best results of any couture collection in the last decade, fueled by a spike in interest in founder Christian Dior as the house celebrated its 70th anniversary.
“We are seeing an increasingly strong penetration of Asian customers,” he said, noting that the couture show that Dior staged in Tokyo in May, to celebrate the opening of its flagship there, generated strong interest in the high-end activity.
Toledano, who will hand over to his successor Pietro Beccari in early February, credited Bernard Arnault, chairman and ceo of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton — the luxury conglomerate that owns Dior — with supporting couture when it appeared in danger of extinction.
“The level of energy is huge and that is a great source of personal satisfaction, because there were years when people questioned the future of haute couture in general, not just at Dior. Bernard Arnault always wanted to stay the course, and I believe that is one of the factors explaining the strength of the brand today,” he said.
Toledano said the “Christian Dior, Dream Couturier” retrospective, which attracted a record-breaking 708,000 visitors during its six-month run at Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris, was likely to travel to other countries. A source with knowledge of the matter said New York would likely be the first stop on the list.
Meanwhile, Giorgio Armani reported the performance of his Armani Privé collection was positive, in line with the previous season.
“Overall, we kept a stable hold in all markets, both the traditional ones and those of the Middle East and Far East. The latter continue to maintain good purchasing behavior levels, confirming that the customer base has expanded to now encompass very young women,” the Italian designer said.
“I have observed that customers — especially in the Far East — are increasingly interested in evening dresses. The target age of this clientele is now lowering significantly: a very interesting phenomenon that gives me a remarkable creative stimulus,” he added.
Accordingly, Armani plans to show new silhouettes in terms of dimensions and lengths — “special and surprising outfits, the result of a full freedom of expression,” he promised.
Bruno Pavlovsky, president of fashion at Chanel, said the brand was also seeing an influx of younger customers.
“The phenomenon is growing. In Asia, for example, I think there was maybe a certain reserve,” he said. “Perhaps these future clients didn’t dare come see the collections or push the doors of couture. Today, they are more inclined to come, whether individually or with friends.”
Chanel recently hosted a dinner for couture clients on the eve of the opening of its “Mademoiselle Privé” exhibition in Hong Kong, and plans to reprise its recent Métiers d’Art show in Moscow in May.
“We offer these clients an energy, a unique adventure, and they want to be a part of it. Here, we are really in the realm of the one-of-a-kind piece, and that’s what makes the difference, I think,” he offered.
Delphine Bellini, deputy general manager of Schiaparelli, said new customers were also key to its growth last year.
“They are formidable ambassadors, which also contributes a lot to our growth. Our customers are younger and younger, between 20 and 30, very active and very connected. They are looking for daring, extremely creative and exclusive pieces,” she said.
“They use digital tools to search for outfits or inspirations, and give us feedback during the entire process of making their order. They are responsive, fast and know what they want. They like pieces that are light but very elaborate, and are often drawn to a combination of technical, or innovative, and very traditional materials,” she added.
Sophie Waintraub, general manager of Jean Paul Gaultier, said the brand exceeded its own predictions by registering double-digit sales growth in its couture business last year, helped in part by strong progress in North America, where it has a second showroom in Los Angeles in addition to one in New York.
She said there was less visibility in the Middle East, noting that the appointment of Mohammed bin Salman as Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia has ushered in a period of change in the region. The prince has led a wide-ranging anticorruption purge that has led to the jailing of fellow royals.
“It’s clear that they are being a bit more careful about how they spend and do things at the highest levels of authority in the country, so we are waiting to see what impact that will have. For the time being, there is none, but we’ll be following this closely,” Waintraub said.
The house believes it has a strong potential for growth in mature and emerging markets. As part of its ongoing efforts to expand in Latin America, it will stage a couture show in Buenos Aires in March to coincide with the arrival of an exhibition of Gaultier’s bridal creations at the Kirchner Cultural Centre.
“We are very satisfied and quite optimistic for 2018,” Waintraub said. “We have really felt a change, with clients returning to Paris not just for the show, but throughout the year. They come and see us, which was not the case in previous years. There is a real revival in interest and love for Paris.”
While Chanel’s Pavlovsky agreed that sentiment in Paris was improving, he cautioned big brands against letting down their guard.
“Yes, there is a little movement in Paris and that’s very positive. At the same time, as a fashion house that is a showcase for French luxury, it’s important to continue to shine the spotlight on Paris in everything that we do. It would be a mistake to think that Paris is back for good,” he cautioned.
“Every capital worldwide is launching initiatives and doing interesting things, so if we want to continue to stand out in Paris, the effort has to be permanent,” he added. “Putting on a strong showing during Paris couture is also a good way to preserve here something absolutely exceptional that nobody else can offer.”