Ready To Wear: Haute couture is out of the closet and thriving

By the time you read this, the handful of women inclined to order haute couture clothing will be off to their first show – cosmetic enhancement perfected, liveried drivers at the ready and with a limousine-required wardrobe to match.

Any press in attendance will appear positively understated – and in my case very understated – by comparison. But if the Paris haute couture season may once have been upheld as an anachronism, the strange truth is that it now seems more relevant than it has done for years.

For the first time since 2004, Donatella Versace is on the schedule with her Atelier Versace collection: Angelina Jolie (pictured) was just one client who showed off this designer's abilities at the Golden Globes last week. When the Versace label was struggling, a couture presentation was judged an expendable indulgence, but with it flourishing once more, and the "hand-made" tag increasingly denoting value in a saturated market, it's back.

Following the death of François Lesage, master embroiderer to all the great couturiers for over half a century, a new artistic director has succeeded him. Hubert Barrière, formerly of rival Maison Hurel, was appointed to that post in November. Bruno Pavlovsky, president of Chanel fashion (Chanel bought Lesage in 2002), cites 2011 as "a very good year" for the company. Newly appointed a fully-fledged member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne as of December, meanwhile, is Gambattista Valli. "It was clear from his show [in July] that he has caught the attention of a new generation of customers," Didier Grumbach, president of that organisation said.

On the red carpet, as a powerful marketing tool but also as a craft form that the privileged feel compelled to invest in, haute couture is thriving. An increasingly hand-worked and upscale element to ready-to-wear collections is also testimony to the fact that, hard times notwithstanding, there are people willing to spend upwards of £20,000 on a dress. Such expense is relative and they do so safe in the knowledge that they're never likely to run into anyone else wearing it at the same party.

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