Season's must have: a buyer for Lacroix

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Indy Lifestyle Online

With its Cinderella ball gowns dripping with embroidery, and hand-calligraphed name plates tied to tiny gilt chairs, Paris Couture Week often feels like an exquisite bubble protected from the harsher realities of the outside world.

However, while the made-to-measure business remains strong at several of the larger fashion houses, a black financial cloud hangs over one of Paris's most flamboyant, theatrical and well-loved couturiers - Christian Lacroix.

A combination of a drop in orders due to the recession, and an expensive bid to make the label even more luxurious drove the troubled house, which was set up in 1987 in Lacroix's name by LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault, to seek protection from its creditors in May. Then last Friday; employees were told about a restructuring plan that could see the workforce slashed from 124 to just 12, enough to manage the label's licensing agreements. The only hope of saving the business in its current form is if a serious buyer comes forward swiftly.    

However Lacroix, who is known for voluminous silhouettes such as 'le pouf', an opulent, baroque approach to decoration and a love of mixing rich Provencale colours, declared defiantly that the show must go on, albeit on a smaller scale. Today's presentation at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs was scaled down to around 250 people instead of the usual 1,200 at the Pompidou centre. According to Marie Martinez-Seznec, Director of Haute Couture at Lacroix, the designer "presented the show with zero euros," thanks to embroiderers and other suppliers of the lavish ingredients of couture donating their services. She described the atmosphere at the house as, "very strange, but also full of joy because Mr Lacroix is presenting the couture.' She added that, "Mr Lacroix is working hard to save the business, we don't know what is happening yet but I have my fingers crossed. I am not allowed to sell anything at the moment, but I am keeping a waiting list because I am optimistic. We are keeping positive."

Kate Phelan, fashion director of British Vogue said: "The clothes told the story. It was almost like a funeral procession, with lots of black, navy and lace, until it ended on a high with a white wedding dress." She added that atmosphere inside the show was sombre, but also with a burst of euphoria at the end when Lacroix received a standing ovation.

Models in dark turbans and large hats wore sequinned, embroidered and embellished cocktail dresses, as well as full-skirted evening dresses and Eighties tailoring, with large shoulders and decorative bows that recalled the decade in which Lacroix leapt to fame. The show had a Russian feel to it with gold brocade elements and military detailing on some pieces, and the final look was an enormous Matryoshka-style bridal gown.

Sadly, talent and passion such as Lacroix's alone are not necessarily enough to survive in the modern fashion industry. Unlike Giorgio Armani, who showed his Prive line earlier in the day and pioneered the concept of the lifestyle brand, Arles- born Lacroix never came up with anything as commercial as a must-have bag, pair of shoes or perfume range. However Armani has amassed a personal fortune estimated by Forbes magazine at 2.8 billion dollars thanks not to not only numerous diffusion clothing lines, but also underwear, home products and perfume - the latest of which was launched directly after his show.

With Cate Blanchett and Megan Fox watching - Armani grasps the power of celebrity - he showed a high octane selection of cocktail suits in plush velvets, silks, and gold and silver lame; many embellished with beads and rhinestones. The shoulder padded jackets showed his flair for tailoring, while trousers were slightly cropped and high waisted. For the red carpet - and the actresses in the audience - there were slinky column dresses in royal blue and navy, saturated in beads and sequins.