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PARIS — In recent seasons, smaller couturiers have fallen off the calendar in multitudes. As the client pool shrinks and the major houses snap up the remaining customers, it has become difficult for smaller operations to survive. Some houses, however, are fighting a gallant fight, focusing on the client’s needs and carving out niches to build their businesses.

This story first appeared in the January 23, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Take, for example, the house of Jean-Louis Scherrer. For several seasons, designer Stephane Roland has targeted women who crave real clothes. For spring, he offered a raft of sharp, high-waisted pantsuits for day that are sure to appeal to his clientele. Jackets came sliced open at the sleeve, while such details as smocking or geometric disc embroidery on skirts and a trench coatdress added an haute element. For evening, sleek gowns came with built-in capes, plunging necklines and ruffled collars.

Dominique Sirop specialized in sculptural gowns. His light chiffon creations were long and sinuous and often embroidered with semiprecious jewelry, fine fare for the Sirop faithful. Meanwhile, Franck Sorbier staged his kite-inspired collection in a theater with live music from an Indian sitar trio. His ornate organza bustier dresses and printed chiffon gowns were dramatic and dreamy. Another flight of fantasy came from Maurizio Galante, who presented a scaled-down version of his collection on dolls with live music from a choir. Guided by shirtless men, the “models” walked across a miniature stage.

Elie Saab, a Beirut-based couturier, worked a variation on a theme by showing one chiffon embroidered gown after another. Unabashedly sexy, they came with high slits, plunging necklines and tons of elaborate decoration. Saab has a limited repertoire, but what he does, he does well.

Istanbul designer Dilek Hanif made a respectable debut in Paris, mixing Ottoman and Western influences. Her rich embroidery and ostrich feather decoration had a whiff of the Far East, and her caftan dresses were flamboyant.

Japanese designer Hanae Mori didn’t surprise with her client-focused approach. For day, there were pantsuits trimmed in lace and, for evening, she featured wraparound dresses embroidered with tigers and butterflies.

Meanwhile, the shrinking young designer set vied for attention. Michel Dupre and Christelle Santabarbara, known together as Dupre Santabarbara, showed on the official couture calendar for the first time. Their slinky dresses made of patchwork hosiery and geometric embroidery had a homespun feel, but they were resourceful and imaginative.

While Anne-Valerie Hash doesn’t do couture per se, her intricate tailoring has an haute aspect to it. This season, she evolved in the right direction, toning down her experimental flourishes while honing her creativity. Mixing masculine and feminine elements, her jackets came with linings that bunched out at the hem, while lace tops and ruffled skirts had a cool vintage feel.