This season John Galliano showed his Dior couture collection in a modest tent behind the Musée Rodin. Givenchy also pared down its couture collection to ten looks — fewer than half the number they showed last season — and forewent a show in favor of a presentation in a townhouse in Paris. Chanel went all out as usual, with a giant lion centerpiece, which Times critic Cathy Horyn calls "either an example of Karl Lagerfeld’s brilliant stagecraft or an advertisement for a new Disney restaurant chain." He also splurged on a lion head for runway escort Baptiste Giabiconi, perhaps a mammalian evolution from the bear suits in Chanel's fall 2010 show, which also included a controversial imported iceberg. But Chanel's unflappable extravagance aside, Horyn writes that couture feels like it's going the way of the VHS:
Most of the remaining half-dozen or so houses that show haute couture scaled down their presentations this week: a nip here, a tuck there and a P.R. man explaining in a hushed tone that the designer wanted to “return to couture’s roots.”
Which are what, exactly? The sets for the fall collections were less extravagant than in the past. Dior’s show in a tent behind the Musée Rodin was lovely, with an orange flower as the background, but 10 years ago the house took over a wing at Versailles. Givenchy skipped a show, and instead Riccardo Tisci put 10 outfits on forms, their beading and tiny skulls meant to invoke, in part, death.
Why not just hang a sign on the door that says “Shut”?
Unless you have been catching up on “Gossip Girl” reruns, national deficits and unemployment do not correlate with a couture dress that costs as much as a Harvard education. Couture is slipping off people’s radars faster than a U.F.O. And virtually all of the luxury companies, while their businesses have recovered, are focused on China and the hungry Chinese consumer.
Talk to fashion houses, of course, and they will tell you a different story. "Many of our customers don't want to go to fashion shows," Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci told British Vogue. "They like to quietly come and make their orders and then disappear again." Jean Paul Gaultier told Horyn that he sold more couture pieces last season than any year in his label's haute couture history. Chanel president Bruno Pavlovsky said the label's sales for the last couture season increased 20 to 30 percent. Dior president and CEO Sidney Toledano called the spring 2010 couture season one of the house's best ever, adding, "We received so many orders, we are not sure we can deliver them."
So maybe the super-wealthy people who can afford to shop couture are doing so, but just more quietly. After all, these days no one wants to be the girl who saunters into a fashion show of clothes that cost as much as or more than plenty of people make in a year. Couture clients typically maintain a low profile, because it is a hard life they lead, having tons of money to spend on material things. Anyone on Wall Street can tell you that much.