Of all the Paris couture shows, Mr Armani sells more off his million $/£/€ runway than any other designer and possibly more than the rest combined. In this secretive world we can only really speculate about figures. Couture is the ultimate fashion dream and the mystery that surrounds it is part of its allure.
But it is a serious business. The precious, one off, made to measure dresses have several functions.
1st : they are a fashion house’s passport to the elite club and being a member adds the fairy dust of luxury to every other product they sell.
2nd: they are the ultimate marketing tool: a wardrobe of dream worthy dresses which, after the shows are poised and ready for the most potent advertising space of all - on the back of a suitable celebrity on some major red carpet.
3rd: the couture is the most glamorous research and development in the world. Techniques and ideas that can be adapted to ranges throughout the brand are explored and finessed here. Think of it as the Formula 1 of fashion: what Renault learns from its experience on the race track provide information that is ultimately applicable to the family 4 door saloon. So it is with the couture where ideas and lessons learned can eventually filter down to the more humbly priced products.
4th and final reason to do couture: you might actually sell something.
I am not being facetious. For most fashion houses, the couture collection is a loss leader: an extravagant and fabulous showcase that burnishes the brand but adds precious little to the bottom line. This brings me back to Mr Armani. Of all the couturiers working in Paris today, he actually sells a lot of clothes. I had a chance to be a fly on the wall in his showroom after the show about two seasons ago and the buying frenzy was something I had only ever seen before on the first day of a really good sale.
There were chic American ladies, families of Arab ladies, a couple of Brazilians and someone who had just flown in from Hong Kong, literally tossing £10,000 jackets around like I handle the merch at Zara. It was a revelation. And that was a collection that was, to my mind, pretty difficult for an ordinary person to wear: lots of metallic colours and sculptural fabrics.
So this season I can only imagine the frenzy that is going on behind closed doors chez Armani Prive. For the collection was a riff on that most great of Armani’s greatest hits: mannish inspired womenswear.
Sharp shouldered jackets the colour of a pale pink sunset were worn with slim pants and softly draped t shirts. Ankle length skirts were styled with mannish waistcoats. Heavily embroidered pygama trousers went with nonchalant t shirts and sleeves pushed up to the elbow.
Cocktail dresses were all styled with jeweled net veils over the face and evening wear sparkled with an abundance of crystals and beads like a particularly starry night.
For the ladies in the audience resplendent in the hits from last season there was so much for the Armani customer here it must have been like a red letter day.
by Paula Reed in Paris
For more Couture action - including who's wearing what on the FROW and Raf Simons' Dior debut - click here.