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July 8, 2009 1:24 PM

Fashion

Transforming Couture

PARIS -- Couture, the apex of the fashion pyramid, is on the cusp of big change, and it's happening at a speed unfamiliar to a world that requires stitches, hand-wrought, one after the other, for hundreds of hours to make...

PARIS -- Couture, the apex of the fashion pyramid, is on the cusp of big change, and it's happening at a speed unfamiliar to a world that requires stitches, hand-wrought, one after the other, for hundreds of hours to make a single dress.
 
It's made for a confounding week (make that three days), with Christian Lacroix's on-a-shoestring high fashion collection, possibly his last, greeted with a standing ovation and one of the hands-down favorites of the week. Two French journalists even unfurled a giant banner proclaiming "Christian Lacroix Forever" at the end of his show.
Not so long ago, the front rows were crammed with seasoned American buyers known by their first names, fashion directors from big department stores drunk in the inspiration and trends and editors clamoring for dresses for high fashion photo features.

Today, young clients from emerging markets like Russia, China and the Middle East have moved to the fore. Most retailers are staying home and coverage of couture is dwindling in some countries, including the U.S. and France.

The biggest threat, as it always was, is ready-to-wear, and as a sharp-eyed colleague pointed out, one can see just as many extraordinary one-of-a-kind creations from a diverse range of designers during rtw fashion weeks, from Alexander McQueen and Balenciaga to Dolce & Gabbana.

Market demand and interest in extraordinary fashions is unlikely to disappear, but the rules are changing faster than the most expert seamstress can whip up a bias gown. That's what makes fashion an exhilarating and fascinating business.
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