How much?! The rise of the £6k dress

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Most of us are scrimping hard, but one of spring’s biggest trends is a hefty price tag

If there’s one phrase you don’t want to stumble across while clicking around your favourite shopping site, it’s “sold out”. That’s just plain annoying.

But when those words appear next to a £12,000 chain-mail minidress (Versace) or even a £4,315 envelope clutch bag (The Row – made from lizard)? Yes, you were only  looking, but who’s buying them?

For spring 2013, the luxury-fashion site Net-a-Porter predicts “the rise of the £6k dress”. That’s a dress that costs £6,000. They are not wedding dresses, or even red-carpet gowns: some are for cocktail parties; others might even qualify as daywear (depending on how razzy one’s social diary is before sundown). And they sell – if not in industrial quantities, then at least enough to warrant buyers placing larger  orders than they used to.

The beauty of online shopping means more of us can ogle these high-ticket items without feeling the icy glare of the shop attendant on our feudal backs, but rarely does it cross your mind that it might mean more of us are buying them too.

“There has always been a market for intricately made [and appropriately priced] dresses,” explains Judd Crane, womenswear buyer at Selfridges, which has  increased the number of  £4k-plus pieces that it buys as its average prices have crept up overall. “The aim is to elevate the shopping experience. There is an  appetite for those products within an influential market.”

Buyer Natalie Kingham at Matches also reports increasing interest, and the site has sold out of the selection of Giambattista Valli’s haute couture collection that it bought into. “The dress coat is another key piece, as women can wear it for events, for work or even dressed down with jeans,” she says.

“The market for luxury seems insatiable at the moment,” says Avril Mair, fashion-features editor at Harper’s Bazaar. “There’s truth in the idea that women are buying less but better  – still, it’s a lot to spend on a frock!”

“I think designers are testing the limits of ready-to-wear,” she continues. “In price, obviously, but correspondingly in construction. From couture fabrics to incredible levels of embellishment, you’re paying for something very special and unique.”

It’s true that demi-couture – that is, ready-to-wear clothing with rarefied, hand-worked detailing that approximates some of the workmanship that comes out of Paris’s finest ateliers – has become something of a trend in itself in recent seasons. For autumn 2012, London designer Mary Katrantzou collaborated with the embroidery house of Lesage – which usually works alongside Chanel for its haute couture and métiers d’art collections – on dresses that were encrusted with beads  and sequins, applied in such  quantities that they became almost three-dimensional.

Last summer, Christopher Kane showed shift dresses and tops that were hand-appliquéd with silk flowers and petals; the T-shirts in this vein alone retailed for around £4,000. And this season, Erdem Moralioglu, known for his statement dresses, worked with a Swiss lace manufacturer who has supplied fabric to Dior and Balenciaga since the 1940s.

Of course, designer clothing has  always been expensive. But the profusion of newly made millionaires in developing economies has meant that, despite what Western markets see as straitened times, luxury labels still have a customer base for even the most exclusive of garments and, for that matter, price tags. And naturally the internet has made selling these pieces much easier, too – essentially cutting out the distance between high-rolling clients in China, Russia and the UAE, and offering them the clothes they would normally have to view in a European salon in just a few clicks.

“It’s a dream that clients are  responding to these pieces because it means we can work with designers on incredible pieces that really push the boundaries,” Natalie Kingham says.

This audience accounts perhaps for some of the more high-octane numbers, such as Matthew Williamson’s beaded Aztec minidress (£5,695, Matches) or the Alexander McQueen lattice corset dress (£7,990, Selfridges), but there are more and more customers spending these sorts of figures on restrained and minimal pieces, too. All you need to do is look at the speed with which understated Céline collections fly out of the shops.

It points to a change in shopping habits and the fashionable mindset that has been well documented since the crash and subsequent recessions. It has been assumed that investment dressing is for us mere mortals, who now spend £45 on one jumper, rather than £60 on three. But the £6k-dress phenomenon is all part of the same  notion that pieces don’t live and die by seasons, and that they can be reworn again and again.

“I’m not quite in the £6k market,” laughs Paula Reed, creative director at Harvey Nichols, “but I’ve saved up for a 3k Alaïa, which I intend to wear for ever. I have 20-year-old Alaïa pieces that I still wear.”

The upper end of the dress market in Harvey Nichols is very much inspired by the idea that these pieces are classics rather than fripperies. The tried-and-tested Stella McCartney illusion dress, as worn on the red carpet by Kate Winslet and Heidi Klum, comes in at £2,810; Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy’s long monochrome, one-sleeved dress is £3,200; and a snakeskin-print georgette shirt-dress by Valentino tips the scales at £7,705.

Clearly they’re out of our budgets, but are reliably timeless in terms of aesthetic and wearability – which just goes to show that not all astronomically priced pieces have to look out of this  world too.

“It isn’t necessarily about being ‘showy’,” Avril Mair adds, “though that’s inevitably what some customers want. If you remember that a Chanel suit can cost £5k, it’s a similar investment. You’re going to have it  for ever.”

Well, somebody will. But it isn’t  likely to be one of us.

Sport
The sun rises over St Andrews golf course, but will it be a new dawn for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club?
sportAnd it's Yes to women (at the R&A)
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
footballToure's lack of defensive work is big problem for City
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Volunteer your expertise as Trustee for The Society of Experimental Biology

    Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Promising volunteer Trustee op...

    Email Designer

    £30000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

    Psychology Teacher

    £110 - £130 per hour: Randstad Education Reading: Psychology Teacher needed fo...

    Food Technology Teacher

    £85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week