Crisis? What crisis? Paris haute couture thinks big
Mon Jan 26, 4:00 PM EST
Sophie Hardach



PARIS (Reuters) – Dramatic blood-red gowns on the catwalk, billowing fur coats in the audience: at the haute couture shows in Paris on Monday the super-rich defied the economic crisis in extravagant style.

Luxury executives have cut costs and jobs amid falling sales, but the message of new modesty has yet to reach the jet-setting crowd admiring wasp-waisted sunshine yellow, pink and pale blue dresses at Dior.

Designers must meet a strict set of criteria to enter the exclusive club of haute couture, which has just admitted a new, 12th member -- Stephane Rolland.

"Haute couture is unique," said Ellen Olivier de Vezin, a former public relations executive who came from California to see Rolland's collection of angular, geometric black, white and red dresses.

"The skills that go into haute couture are disappearing and it's a privilege to buy these clothes," she added.

The select few who nabbed front row seats at the Dior show echoed that love of craftsmanship and fine material.

Tottering across the cobblestone courtyard at the Musee Rodin where the show was held, they challenged the global downturn with big hair, big furs and big sunglasses.

"Sometimes I get surprised, you hear there is a crisis but you still see people shopping," said a carefully coiffed Jordanian Dior client who did not want to be named.

Queuing in front of the museum's sun-streaked facade, she said she was visiting the haute couture shows to pick a designer for her daughter's wedding dress.

"When you want something exclusive, you have to go to haute couture. My daughter is getting married and I want a dress specially made for her -- and for myself, and sisters and family."

However, there were fewer models than usual in the show, a sign that even the very top, where dresses can easily cost upward of 30,000 euros ($39,430), is perhaps feeling the economic chill.

But Dior designer John Galliano lived up to his reputation for the theatrical.

His pink and red silk gowns with tight bodices that exploded into voluminous silk and floral-print skirts would not have looked out of place at a garden party thrown by Marie Antoinette.

"It was my kind of thing. The theatrics speak to me as a showgirl," burlesque dancer Dita von Teese told Reuters after the show. "It is good to know there are other people who appreciate this kind of thing -- beading, rhinestone, feathers."

(Editing by Paul Casciato)


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