Paris haute couture stitching up new markets

Wed Jul 7, 2010 2:46pm EDT
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By Nina Sovich

PARIS (Reuters Life!) - Designers of French haute couture are finding the tastes and pocketbooks of emerging market clients have been a boost for dwindling sales as they spread their commercial nets beyond wealthy Westerners.

Slight alterations to classic designs, a nod to regional tastes and the exclusive allure of the traditional French atelier is proving a useful pattern for today's couturiers looking to stay afloat in a tougher financial climate.

Designers justify the price of haute couture -- a dress can cost $100,000 or more -- by saying it is art, pure and simple. They set the tone and the clients, hopefully, follow with their pocketbooks.

This year's catwalk shows appear to be bearing in mind the old adages that fashionistas from conservative Gulf states favor long dresses, Chinese clients like to see a hint of red and black, the Lebanese like bright colors and sparkle, while Russians look to body conscious clothes.

"In Moscow you can wear a very short skirt. Show your breasts and legs forever. You can wear the most beautiful jewels and it is not vulgar. Try that here in Paris," said Anna Sherbinina, a Russian actress after the Elie Saab haute couture show on Wednesday.

At the haute couture shows in Paris this week, sparkle, sequins and metallic's were in abundance, reflecting Russian and Arab tastes. Even Chanel, the powerhouse of French couture, made brightly colored cocktail dresses that were a far cry from the sober black dresses of the house's founder.

Armani paired skin tight trousers with enormous handbags that seemed to draw the attention of Arab clients and Stephane Rolland presented sculpted dresses from thick taffeta and leather that flatter the rounder figures not normally associated with the rake-thin Western acolytes of haute couture.

Some observers note that haute couture, which is expensive to produce and has only a few hundred clients worldwide, is better served by practical designers chasing new money.   Continued...

<p>Models present creations by Lebanese designer Elie Saab as part of his Fall/Winter 2010-2011 Haute Couture fashion show in Paris July 7, 2010. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes</p>