Tuesday, December 25, 2007

All Dressed up & Somewhere to Go

"Today the ladies don't only buy couture," noted Didier Grumbach, President of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. "They are episodic or occasional clients, for one or two events in their life."

While the American clients are back in force for slim-line, non-ball-gown evening wear, Chanel and Dior both say that it is the Arab clients who are ordering the more extravagant designs that require yards of expensive fabric and embroidery.

For many of the Middle Eastern customers, in particular those from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar, these special events generally take the form of lavish weddings held in gilded palace halls or the ballrooms of five star hotels. Attended by woman only, such events produce the highest concentration of elaborate ball gowns and jewels not seen since the court of Versailles.

For the Paris couture houses the importance of attracting Arab clients lies not just in their numbers but in how much they spend. Large Arab weddings are often extravagant formal events, where women are required to attend in sumptuous ball gowns. Clients will not only order an elaborately embroidered bridal gown, which can often run up to $150,000, but will also include a number of outfits for the wedding party. "You can't imagine how much work it involves," said Marc Bohan, the former designer at Dior who designed the clothes for the wedding of Princess Firyal’s son in Amman.

Nada Kirdar, one of couture’s most prominent Arab clients and the wife of Iraqi born Investcorp founder Nemir Kirdar, commissioned Christian Lacroix to design the dresses for the wedding party of her daughter Rena Sindi on July 6, 1991 in London. The bride, in a Lacroix dress dripping with embroidery, and her mother, in chartreuse chiffon, received in the Great Room of Grosvenor House, where the 700 dinner guests included the New Yorkers Evelyn and Leonard Lauder, as well as the Iraqi born financier Cecile Zilkha and his wife Ezra. The Kirdar’s youngest daughter Serra was also recently married in a couture wedding gown by Lacroix.

Arab weddings have continued to be a significant source of revenue for the house of Lacroix, which has several major weddings in the pipeline, including one for which a dress was recently flown to the Gulf on a dressmaker's dummy inside a specially constructed cabinet.

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