Fashion: Why the Cosi cast were adrift when they went to Marks

The Royal Opera House may be happy with costumes from M&S, but, says Melanie Rickey, Armani offers so much more
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The Independent Online
THREE female singers from the Royal Opera House went costume hunting in the Marble Arch branch of Marks & Spencer on Monday, after Giorgio Armani refused to alter clothes he had previously designed for a modern-dress production of Cosi fan tutte. Armani was paid pounds 18,000 last summer, and pounds 18,000 in 1995, to provide costumes for revivals of the opera, but was unhappy about making further changes to the outfits, needed because some of the singers were smaller and lighter than their predecessors.

So the Royal Opera House team decided Britain's favourite quality clothes shop could provide clothes just as good, at a fraction of the price - pounds 120 per suit, to be precise. And, what's more, they liked what they saw. After all, no one would be able to tell the difference except the singers wearing them, right?

Wrong. This is where the Armani vs M&S debate falls flat on its face. Both companies provide simple suits for working women - and opera singers - but there the similarities end. The essential difference between high fashion and M&S is not just the designer but the quality and weight of the fabric used, the amount of time spent on manufacture, and the detailing, such as choice of buttons. And when you're under the stage lights, the cut and drape of top-quality clothing will be particularly apparent.

While M&S goes a long way towards offering the best for their customers, spending a little bit more will make all the difference; not just for opera fans, but for the rest of us as well. One fan of Paul Smith, who also shops at M&S, explains it thus: "I tried on a pounds 299 suit at M&S last week, which looked good, but didn't fit in all the right places. For pounds 186 more I bought a Paul Smith suit that did fit, and will, I'm sure, last many years."

Perhaps all this palaver will teach the Royal Opera House a lesson: don't spend pounds 18,000 on clothes that will only be worn once. M&S is far more reasonable.