In Paris, the mood today couldn’t be more optimistic as the city heralds the opening of haute couture week. Just one year ago, market observers hovered over couture like the grim reaper ready to pound the final rusty nail into its chiffon-lined coffin. The tentacles of the financial crisis had by then firmly gripped the luxury industry, making couture appear more anachronistic than before, and news of Christian Lacroix’s bankruptcy seemed to spell out an omen to the entire sector.
But now, according to a piece in WWD which quoted several executives behind the brands still operating a couture division, demand is up – and in very meaningful percentages.
Véronique Gautier, president of Jean Paul Gaultier, described the summer 2010 season as a “spectacular recovery” when “all of the orders proved that clients are once again enthusiastic for the unique creations only couture can propose.”
Bruno Pavlovsky, president of fashion at Chanel, reported a 20-30% increase and added that “today, we feel a new interest in haute couture.” Christian Dior’s CEO, Sidney Toledano, declined to give any numbers but was unequivocal about how much things had improved. “We received so many orders, we are not sure we can deliver them,” he said.
Thanks mostly to new clients from Middle East, China and booming Asian countries, there is an increase in total client numbers – which is the most important figure after profits. But it is the number of women returning to couture had retreated to ready-to-wear in places like the US, Russia and other markets where the crisis had a big impact that has executives most upbeat about couture’s longer term vitality.
In the meantime, firms are making their couture operations more efficient by scaling down the main catwalk productions; taking more collections on the road to emerging market presentations; and increasing service levels for private views at client homes wherever they are around the world.
If the collections on show this week can sustain as big an increase in orders as they did in January, couture may not need to be put on life support after all. Not yet anyway.