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Couture’s Health Check: Will the Sector Survive Exits of Ungaro, Versace?

Two pillars of Paris couture, Emanuel Ungaro and Donatella Versace, are bidding farewell to the world of couture, or at least its runways.

PARIS — Just when the couture seems to lack buzz, it springs back to life — because of speculation that it’s dying.

Both Emanuel Ungaro and Donatella Versace told WWD exclusively Wednesday they are bidding farewell to the world of couture — or at least its runways — which is bound to fuel fresh debate over the future of ultraexpensive, handmade clothes as the number of their purveyors continues to dwindle.

The news from Ungaro and Versace follows the announcement by Givenchy that it would not show during Paris couture week July 6-9 as it seeks a replacement for Julien Macdonald, and rumors that Valentino also is considering dropping the couture. A spokesman for the house on Wednesday denied the speculation, however, and said the designer will show a couture collection in Paris couture week July 6-9 as it seeks a replacement for Julien Macdonald, and rumors that Valentino also is considering dropping the couture. A spokesman for the house on Wednesday denied the speculation, however, and said the designer will show a couture collection in Paris in July.

But the moves are bound to prompt further soul-searching among the remaining names on the couture roster. Chanel and Christian Dior, for example, while deeply committed to the couture business, have recently questioned the viability of a couture week in Paris as the number of participants continues to decrease. Karl Lagerfeld has even recently mulled the possibility of showing in New York.

Houses that have stopped making couture in recent years include Yves Saint Laurent, Thierry Mugler, Louis Feraud, Lanvin and Nina Ricci.

The couture has had its ups and downs, but seemed to find a new viability in the booming Nineties with the extravaganzas mounted by John Galliano at Dior and the entry into the craft of such houses as Jean Paul Gaultier. Even Alexander McQueen at one point voiced an ambition to produce a couture collection under his Gucci-backed label, but that never came to fruition.

But as the luxury goods sector was hammered by the global economic downturn after 9/11, it became increasingly difficult for some houses to justify the investment in their expensive couture operations. Ungaro’s departure from the couture removes another pillar of the craft, and one on which he founded his house 37 years ago.
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