"Half-price" models tighten their belts

Mon Feb 2, 2009 3:46pm EST
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By Sophie Hardach

PARIS (Reuters) - Free designer dresses, an army of admirers and $15,000 to stroll down a catwalk: no wonder thousands of teenage girls aspire to being a top model.

But at the haute couture shows in Paris, the leggy blondes in silk dresses who advertise a life of luxury are finding their world turned inside out by the economic crisis.

"Half price! It's half-price everywhere, in Milan, even in New York," cried Anna Chyzh, a 23-year-old from Kiev who had just changed out of a Stephane Rolland haute couture gown into jeans and was headed to the next show.

Like many models from Ukraine, Russia and the Balkans, Chyzh regularly sends money home to support her mother, a freelance interior designer who is having trouble finding work because of the downturn.

"She says, Anna, you have to help me now. So we have to work for Mum, we cannot refuse any contracts now," she added before disappearing in a swarm of equally blonde and skinny girls.

Shunned by scrimping shoppers amid rising unemployment and fears of a long, deep recession, retailers across the board have cut profit forecasts and marketing budgets.

Even larger luxury goods groups are feeling the pain. Richemont, the Swiss firm behind Montblanc pens and Cartier watches, announced earlier this year it saw no signs of a recovery after third-quarter sales missed forecasts.

Magazine publishers from Conde Nast, which owns Vogue, to Time Inc are seeing advertising sales dive, and the New York Times has said it expects sales to deteriorate further.   Continued...

<p>A model presents this creation by Palestinian designer Hindi Mahdi inside the Saint-Merri Church in Paris as part of his Spring-Summer Haute Couture 2009 fashion collection in this recent photo from January 28, 2009. REUTERS/Charles Platiau</p>