March 1, 2006

Catwalk shows seek to sell much more than clothes

By Kerstin Gehmlich

PARIS (Reuters) - Animals on stage, runways covered with
straw or sand, museums and theatres turned into glitzy fashion
palaces -- Catwalk shows are spectacular.

But is the costly extravaganza worth it?

Sector analysts say the answer is yes. They say such shows
serve a much wider purpose than just selling clothes.

At Belgian designer Dries van Noten's show, a heavy curtain
running along the catwalk was lifted on Wednesday to reveal a
runway covered in golden leaves on which models in high-waisted
skirts and trousers streamed out.

Invitations to the show came in the form of a chocolate
praline in a little black box.

Runway shows are an expensive event for fashion houses.
Analysts say costs are hard to estimate, but gifts, impressive
light and music shows and the rental of exclusive locations
alone can make up hundreds of thousands of euros.

Guests at the Paris ready-to-wear shows this week were
confronted with cats, dogs and an owl on the catwalk at
Jean-Paul Gaultier, a giant lightshow in Paris's Grand Palais
at Christian Dior and glitzy shows in theatres or galleries.

And those invited did not leave empty-handed either.

The hundreds of guests at French designer Gaultier's show
on Tuesday each received a bottle of perfume, which costs more
than 70 euros in high street stores.

Those invited to Dior were making sure they took with them
one of the hundreds of wool-and-silk scarves placed on their
seats. Guests at Chanel last season were showered with books
and little green and pink parasols.

"The shows are very, very important for the visibility of a
brand," said Vincent Gregoire from Paris-based trend
consultancy Nelly Rodi. "It is a form of advertising, with the
media coverage following a show and celebrities wearing the

Sector analysts say luxury houses seek to lure consumers'
attention to the company's other products through a glitzy

"Ready-to-wear is not what is the most profitable but it
helps nourish the image of these brands," a Paris-based sector
analyst said.

"If you look at a show by designer Marc Jacobs for Louis
Vuitton, for example, you will have a huge media coverage,
which helps the entire brand, whether this be leather goods,
sunglasses or jewelry," he said.

Van Noten, who focuses on catwalk shows instead of
splashing out money for advertisements in glossy magazines,
sent out models in gold-colored pumps, wearing floating dresses
or straight-cut jackets embroidered with flowers.

Beige or brown coats were held together with black ribbons
above the chest, and models wore shimmering silk dresses with
little black belts at the waist.

Van Noten's smile was golden as he was greeted by applause
on the runway at the end of his show.