The damage

Ian Phillips counts the cost of dressing in haute couture outfits

This week some of the world's richest women will descend on Paris for the haute couture shows. The price of a couture outfit must be one of the closest kept secrets in fashion. "We never release prices" is the stony response to enquiries. Historical high points are Schiaparelli gowns, one with a 20 metre train, for which the embroidery cost $1.6m and another which took 11,000 hours of work. The women who can actually afford to buy couture keep quiet about the prices, too. One of the top clients, Nan Kempner, simply says that "I really don't have any idea how much the outfits cost as I have a very generous, understanding husband and all the bills go straight to him." Here's a few head-spinning statistics from the world of haute couture (all prices are approximate):

Getting started Minimum price at Christian Lacroix, pounds 7,500; the most basic of suits from an established house, pounds 8,500. (After that, the addition of feathers, crystals and embroidery can easily double the amount.)

Something special Recent examples include a Chanel dress of (real) gold thread, pounds 130,000; Oscar de la Renta simple black suit for Balmain with six large pearl buttons, which each cost pounds 60,000.

Bargains Young Dutch designer Josephus Thimister dress, or a suit from Givenchy's former assistant, Dominque Sirop, pounds 2,175. Otherwise, if you have a model-like figure, you can always buy the "samples" (the actual clothes worn by the models for the shows), which can be adjusted to fit and come at half the price.

The new wardrobe Yves Saint Laurent pantsuit, pounds 21,750; Chanel tweed suit, pounds 13,500; Gaultier evening dress, fully embroidered with sequins and/or pearls, pounds 55,000; Ungaro muslin blouse, pounds 3,800; Mugler wool day dress, pounds 5,400

This season's total pounds 99,450

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