Marco Gobbetti, chief executive officer at Givenchy, said gloomy economic data must be "taken seriously in terms of the general outlook for the business, especially in the U.S., but I doubt it will make a difference to haute couture because the clients are not really sensitive to such economic swings."
Several houses, including Chanel, have opened up their tight invitation list to their best international fine jewelry and ready-to-wear customers, eager to tempt them with the world's most exclusive and expensive fashions.
Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel's president of fashion, concurred, calling 2007 Chanel's best year in couture ever in terms of sales, client growth and number of pieces produced, the latter up some 20 percent thanks to hit collections by Karl Lagerfeld with "the right mix between creativity and wearability."
And while executives allow that a euro trading near $1.50 represents a big challenge for luxury brands and a psychological barrier for some couture clients, most houses said their American clientele is still growing and attendance would likely be up next week. In fact, occasional couture clients remain one of the few question marks for executives, who nonetheless remain bullish about the pinnacle of the luxury universe.
Robert Triefus, Giorgio Armani's executive vice president of worldwide communications, said the designer is expecting 300 clients for his Armani Privé show, a 15 percent increase from last season. These include new prospective clients from Australia, the Middle East, Russia, Spain and the U.K., he noted.
Toledano - President of Christian Dior said robust sales of crocodile handbags and elaborate, expensive ready-to-wear in Dior's boutiques are emblematic of a healthy appetite among the highest customer echelons. "These people have high incomes and they want to differentiate," he said. "They want more exclusive products."
Despite a slowing U.S. economy, the subprime mortgage crisis, lower or no Wall Street bonuses and the weakness of the dollar, many fashion houses expect an increase in American attendees this season.
"The American customer of haute couture will continue to buy," Toledano said. "Even with America, we see more of the younger customers. It's a change in generation, but the same need for something exclusive."
According to Lacroix's couture director Marie Martinez, affluent women find couture alluring — and even addictive. "They're interested in the quality and the workmanship. They really look at the fabrics and the embroidery. It's what couture is — very exclusive, and we really focus on that....When you start wearing such incredible clothes, it's difficult to stop," she said.