Haute Coupure? Luxury buyers scent bargains

Wed Dec 10, 2008 10:58am EST
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By Astrid Wendlandt and Marie-Louise Gumuchian

PARIS/MILAN (Reuters) - In couture, cut is vital, but Marie Dupuis has found it can also apply to price. Thanks to a little bargaining, a Jean-Paul Gaultier dress she had her eye on for New Year's eve was hers at a 40 percent discount.

The 32-year-old Parisian expressed surprise at her 310-euro ($390) coup.

"I have never seen that," she said. "It must be because of the crisis everybody is talking about."

The 'haute' bargain is usually reserved for the super-rich or celebrities who obtain prestige fashion for free from houses keen for the publicity. But as crisis heads to recession, cheaper luxury has become attainable to more ordinary shoppers.

With mainstream margins under pressure as outlets fight for a share of shrunken pre-Christmas budgets, the couture house created by Jean-Paul Gaultier is just one upmarket brand to jump on the promotional bandwagon.

From Paris to Milan and New York to London, a strong pick-up in promotional sales of recent weeks has come to include even luxury brands. In retail generally, the season can account for about 40 percent of annual sales, so the stakes are high.

But the high-end offers are subtle.

Instead of advertising discounts in shop windows -- which can damage the brand by undermining the notion that quality comes at a price -- they have been luring buyers with discreet "private sales," some of them earlier this year than last.   Continued...

<p>People walk past a French designer Jean-Louis Scherrer's store off the Champs Elysees in Paris December 8, 2008. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen</p>