Monday, 10 August 2009

From high street to haute couture

Fashionista has been keeping an eye on the number of retail administrations on the high street since the beginning of the credit crunch and has watched as high street names such as Bay Trading, Morgan, USC and Viyella have fallen victim to consumers tightening their Primark belts. Although a number of brands have been rescued and several savvy retailers have taken the opportunity to snap up brands with unused potential, there can be no doubt that the high street has been and is still going through a period of transition which will result in it looking very different when the current economic crisis finally comes to an end.

However it seems that no retailers are immune and the effects of the credit crunch have been gradually spreading from high street to haute couture. Fashionista was dismayed to read that Christian Lacroix was placed into administration by the Parisian Commercial Court on 3 June 2009. Drapers reported that Lacroix himself, who started the label over 20 years ago will "give 200% to keep the fashion house running" despite the fact that he is already personally owed around 1.2 million euros by the company. It was then reported on 28 July 2009 that Lacroix had teamed up with Borletti Group, the Italian retailer which owns department stores such as La Rinascente and Printemps, to make a bid for the fashion house, but the label's future hangs on the ruling of the French commercial court in September. The French Minister of Culture has been reported as describing the demise of the brand as a "cultural disaster" and at the July couture show in Paris "onlookers wept as the final couture gown swept past and his staff unfurled a banner which read 'Lacroix Forever'."

With recent reports that Escada is "in a difficult situation" and teetering on the brink of insolvency it seems that the effects are now being felt more and more at the once untouchable luxury end of the sector.
The problem is that high-end haute couture houses such as Lacroix have been historically unprofitable and in these economic times necessity dictates that the focus has shifted to profit rather than status. It seems that it is incredibly difficult to take the creative genius of artists such as Lacroix and translate that into a successful business model. As Jean-Jacques Picart, Mr Lacroix's former business partner, has said, "a dress is not a sculpture, it is a business." The current chief executive of Lacroix, Nicolas Topioil, has suggested that the cause of the label's failure lies with the flamboyant designer and his resistance to translating his vision into wearable and sellable clothing. Perhaps it is a sign of the times that Lacroix has recently commented that "maybe we need something modest, something which makes a profit." Fashionista hopes that both labels manage to find a way to become profitable whilst preserving the artistic flair which has made them famous.