Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Why so Haute?

Although within couture circles it is considered inappropriate to reveal the price of any outfit, this has not deterred the fashion press from pointing out the main reason haute couture resides at the top of the fashion pyramid. Its exclusivity lies in the fact that although millions of woman around the world may be able to afford the latest IT-bag from Prada or a Balenciaga skirt. There are only a handful of women around the globe, estimates fluctuate between 200-300, who have the means to spend thousands of dollars on an haute couture garment hand-fitted to their every curve, and created by the most gifted seamstresses and craftsman in the world.

Unlike ready-to-wear, couture garments do not come with a price tag. Instead the price of a particular piece is based on several factors. At the big couture houses such as Dior, Chanel, and Gautier, a simple custom-made suit without any details to speak of can cost about $30,000. If one were to add a chiffon blouse embroidered by Lesage or a silk evening gown strewn with exotic feathers, then prices can rise to a stratospheric $50,000-$100,000.

A model is often never reproduced more than three times, and then only with the permission of the client who first claimed it. What follows is a carefully calibrated dance where the names and locations of the other clients are checked, as well as the functions they intend to wear the piece to in order to insure that no two clients are dressed alike at the same event.

There is also the question of a customer’s size. Many of the regular clients often try to maintain a thin frame in order to fit into the couture samples and acquire the garments at a reduced rate. But if a larger customer falls in love with a dress she will have the garment created for her from scratch. This often requires more fabric and costly embellishment than for a slimmer client, and so the price of a new garment will often climb. The late New York socialite Nan Kempner, one of couture’s most famous collectors, was known to maintain her reed thin body in order to fit into couture samples, and thus purchase her outfits at significantly reduced prices.

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