Marion Hume explains how you could win a £10,000 Christian Lacroix outfit. Photographs by Gavin Bond
If you were to win a cash prize of £10,000, what would you do with it? Mend the guttering, re-fit the bathroom and finally get around to rerendering the outside of the house? Pay off the overdraft? Chip off a bit of the mortgage? Winning a huge amount of cash would certainly be frightfully handy, but would it be romantic? Probably not.

But what if instead of cash, you were to win a dress? A dress so opulent and so splendid that you had never seen its like before? A dress so perfectly matched to every nuance of your body (no matter what shape that body) that you would look spectacular in a way you would never have dreamt of?

At first (and before the dress had been created for you) your thoughts might linger on the practical. You might whine "well, it's all very well, but I'll never get a chance to wear it and I still can't afford to mend that guttering". But then you would find yourself, in spite of yourself, falling in love.

A marvel would be created, just for you and, even if a life could not be created to go with it, just the existence of your special dress would give you a chance to dream. You might find yourself pulling the living room curtains shut, slipping on your £10,000 of finery and waltzing around humming "I could have danced all night" and not feeling daft at all. And you wouldn't even hear the broken guttering banging in the wind.

You might think a dress created at the very zenith of the fashion world, the Paris Haute Couture, could have no place in your life. I thought the same, before I was given the January and July Haute Couture shows as part of my "beat".

Until then, I thought Haute Couture, where frocks cost more than yachts, was all about the obscene wastage of money by trophy wives too stupid to know better. But then I began to watch the spectacle, to swoon at the craftsmanship, to marvel at the exuberance of fashion creativity at its best. My husband has not forgiven me for being so overcome at Christian Lacroix's most recent collection that I claimed in print that I was thinking of running off with a tin magnate who could afford to buy me such clothes.

But that's what Haute Couture can do to you. Twice a year it turns me from a woman in trouser suits (paid for on my own credit card) into a breathy girl who would love it if some beau sent round a huge box filled with something glorious in parma violet tulle. Twice a year, I think "If I had that, I could go to the ball". And then I come back down to earth, and to normality.

Normality, or versions of it in clothing, is what the Independent's fashion coverage often deals with. We on the fashion desk are not an extravagant bunch (why, there is not a Chanel suit or Prada handbag in sight) and in our fashion coverage each week, we hope we offer you both fashion news - such as this week's report from Milan - as well as practical information on where to buy clothes and at what price. But we believe that there is a place for the fantasy of Haute Couture, even though we are well aware that 99 per cent of our readers are not couture customers.

Now, however, one person from that 99 per cent can become one. Christian Lacroix is at the peak of his powers. His recent Haute Couture show was declared a sensation. He has an off-the-peg, ready-to-wear business and a younger, funkier label called Bazar. But his real skill is in creating one-offs, dresses shown to the few and worn by just a handful of the richest women in the world.

We are giving you a chance to join this set. An Haute Couture dress costs more than most women would think of spending in their wildest dreams. And that is just what we are offering you - not the practical, but the dream; a chance to win your very own Haute Couture outfit.

We cannot show you a picture of what you will win, because it does not exist yet; the pictures here were taken at the most recent Lacroix show.

Our winner will meet Christian Lacroix. There will be conversations, about dreams, silk, chiffons and satins. Then the couturier will create a one-off with our winner in mind.

Many people might be under the impression that fashion exists only for those who are willow-slim and under 25. And much of the time they would be right. There are too many designers who can visualise only woman-as- girl, who cannot bring themselves to believe that a woman over a size 12 exists. Christian Lacroix is rare in that he is not sizest in his designs. This competition is open to every woman, irrespective of age, girth or where she lives in the UK ( transport to London will be paid by the Independent). The only exclusion to our competition is brides-to-be looking for wedding dresses. Lacroix's wedding-dress business is already at capacity.

In association with the London retailer Roberto Devorick, Christian Lacroix will open a store in London's Bond Street in April. Our winner will travel there to meet the couturier. A style will be decided on. She will travel back to London for a fitting with one of Lacroix's seamstresses and will thus be taking part in what is a new venture for Christian Lacroix Haute Couture: to date, clients have had to travel to Paris for fittings. The new London store (an expansion on the tiny one in Sloane Street) will offer a salon, up above the ready-to-wear shop.

To win, you need only to buy the Independent every day next week and enter our prize draw. Each day, a coupon will appear next to a picture or two of Christian Lacroix Haute Couture. I'll wager that by the end of next week, even if you are not our winner, you will understand why I toyed with running off with that tin magnate.

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