Haute couture tightens belt in global crisis

PARIS, Jan 22, 2009 (AFP) -The haute couture shows for spring-summer 2009, which begin on Monday, have slimmed down in response to the global financial crisis, spread over three days instead of four and with fewer catwalk presentations.

Chanel collection fall-winter 2008/2009 - Photo : AFP

While all the major players will be present -- Dior, Chanel, Christian Lacroix, Givenchy, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Valentino -- it is the smaller fashion houses which are being forced to cut their coats according to their cloth.

"There were 23 catwalk shows last time," in July, "this season there will only be 20," Didier Grumbach, president of the powerful French federation in charge of the couture calendar admits.

"We were the ones who told them 'Don't force yourselves to mount a show when times are so hard for you.' When it is risky for them, we encourage them not to spend the money on a show when it isn't necessary."

Many of the smaller houses have decided they cannot afford the tens or hundreds of thousand euros (dollars) that it costs to stage a catwalk presentation.

French designer Anne Valerie Hash is one who freely admits she is not showing this time "to save money".

"It would be inconceivable to stage a show when my main worry is to be able to pay staff their salaries."

Fans of her work will nevertheless get a taste of her vision for next summer in windows in the Palais Royal arcade which the culture ministry has put at her disposal.

Other no-shows this season, who gave no reason for their absence, include Maurizio Galante, Jean-Paul Knott, Marc le Bihan and the London-based label Boudicca.

Boudicca's designers Zowie Broach and Brian Kirby told AFP, "Haute couture doesn't exist only in the context of a catwalk show", and said they were working "on a series of dreams on paper" which they would post on the Internet.

French designer Franck Sorbier, who showed his last collection on the Internet because of an eleventh hour crisis in funding, said he would be staging a "modest" catwalk show. He said he had tried to minimise costs, for example by ordering the strict minimum of material.

Lebanese couturier George Chakra, whose workshops in Beirut survived the Israeli war on Hezbollah, was sanguine about the global downturn.

"If it's a marriage, then maybe instead of ordering 10 couture dresses they will order four. But they won't cancel the wedding," he told AFP.

Nor is he letting the crisis derail the launch of his luxury ready-to-wear line next month in New York's fashion week.

Among the big names, Chanel will not be unveiling its collection under the impressive glass dome of the Grand Palais, which has been its fetish venue for several seasons. Instead it will be staging two presentations in more intimate surroundings near its headquarters in the rue Cambon, insisting that this was not for budgetary reasons but because the Grand Palais was not available.

But the house has admitted it is taking "prudent measures" in response to the global downturn, which have included cutting travel costs for staff, hiring on a temporary basis and halting a world tour of a mobile art exhibition inspired by the iconic Chanel quilted handbag.

There are no new names to create a buzz about the coming season. The only debut will be by Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli at Valentino. The pair worked for 10 years under the veteran designer and are taking over from Alessandra Facchinetti, who was summarily sacked in October "after disagreements with the management", only a year since being appointed to the job on Valentino's retirement.by Dominique Schroeder

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