Couture lives,even in times of world crisis


IT IS AN ESPECIALLY delicate moment for the couture business. Many clients and journalists have stayed away from the Paris shows, as much for fears of terrorism as for the fact that the declining dollar has made some dresses as costly as a Mercedes.

With a shrinking list of perhaps 2,500 clients worldwide for such high-priced frippery, there has been dark talk of haute couture dying out. Houses like Nina Ricci and Jean-Louis Scherrer are in distress because up to 50 percent of their customers come from wealthy Arab nations. Pierre Balmain canceled its couture program in December, saying it was too expensive to keep going.

The Chanel show cost about $2.4 million to mount, including the price of the sample garments, according to a report in Le Figaro, a Paris newspaper. The cost is said to be justified in part by the publicity generated.

Aside from the fact that the major players don't eat, couture is not that much different from the Super Bowl. Both are pumped-up spectator sports with related spin-off businesses. Instead of promoting beer and cars, couture is said to promote sales of perfumes, accessories and ready-to-wear clothes.

But fashion executives, while acknowledging the hype, take the view that these collections represent the apex of fashion creativity.

"I always find the couture directional," said Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, who flew to Paris for the collections. "On one level or another it affects fashion. What you see in the spring couture sets the pace for the fall ready-to-wear."

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