That exalted pinnacle of fashion exclusivity — haute couture — was recently in danger of extinction. But the tide has turned. Paris, long its epicenter, has taken a distinctly 21st-century approach as Chanel, Dior, Versace, Armani Privé and their ilk now travel to Dubai, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and other key cities to maintain VIP client relationships and conduct fittings.
An explosion of wealth in emerging markets has spurred the new growth. Some couture houses posted whopping gains of 20% and 30% in recent years. Concurrently, their clients have gotten younger. Ranging in age from late 20’s to mid 30’s and 40’s and injecting vibrancy are glamorous young wives of newly-minted billionaires, the swelling ranks of billionaire female executives and celebrities who follow rising haute couture stars.
Among the new couture clientele, Amal Clooney (wife of George) is a fan of Giambattista Valli’s powerful, structured yet feminine silhouettes. Sean and Robin Wright Penn’s daughter, Dylan Penn, was recently photographed at Chanel. Amber LeBon, daughter of Duran Duran’s lead singer, Simon, was spotted at Armani Privé.
The degree of personalization, precious quality and sheer time (up to 800 hours) required to produce such rarified handcrafted creations begins to explain the price tag, from $35,000 to $300,000. Debuted twice annually in January and July via flashy theatrical fashion shows, the haute couture creates powerful — and critically — image-enhancing press coverage. Further reinforcing haute hotness, throughout the year, designer gowned brand ambassadors and celebrity spokespeople sashay into red carpet and similarly high profile events.
As their couture clad celebrity appearances rocket around world media, the buzz sells more lucrative, more accessible products like $2,000 handbags, less pricey small leather goods and scarves. Add to that burgeoning number, millions of $40 lipsticks and designer fragrances by the gallons that are snapped up by the many thousands who desire to aspire to the lure of couture. No doubt about it, making haute hot is a most brilliant marketing strategy.
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