For people who always find just what they want--but in the wrong size--or just what they need--but in the wrong color--a new type of shop is becoming popular. The category doesn't have a name that fits, exactly. But retailers are calling it "the new couture."
Technically, couture refers to clothes made by Paris designers and measured to fit just one customer. The new couture clothes are always original designs and are either custom-made or altered to fit. And, like classic couture designs, they can be ordered in various fabrics.
All of this is coming about thanks to a new breed of store owners who are not only retailers, but often, fashion designers as well. What they produce isn't sold anywhere else. If they don't actually make the clothes on display in their shops, they work with their own in-house designers to style original collections. And they often set up a factory right upstairs from the showroom, or very close by, so that special orders can be filled in a matter of days.
Some of these new-style shops have prices that start at about $100. Others start at more than $1,000. Some of the designers who work this way are hardly out of school. Others have been in business for a decade or more.
Client lists range from executive women to perpetual party girls. And the style each store promotes can be anything from tailored to froufrou.
One of the newest of the group, and among the most expensive, is Fe Zandi in Beverly Hills. It opened in October, and customers who want to see Zandi's designs have to ask. Most of the stock is not on display. "We don't want people running into merchandise; we like to take it to them," explains the store's managing director, Kamran Behbehani.
Designer Zandi's second-floor workroom is filled with natural light and with half a dozen seamstresses wearing white smocks. Before she came to California, Zandi apprenticed in Paris at Jean Patou and Pierre Balmain, she says.
Her fashion taste is feminine, body conscious and shows off her Paris training. Her ready-to-wear collection of wool tweed suits for day includes a peplum jacket that nips in at the waist. Her skirts are short enough to show off legs.
For evenings, she prefers lavish fabrics--lace, cut velvet and silk taffeta. Some cocktail dresses are short in front but long and sweeping in back. And she makes a romantic little wrap to wear over long or short evening clothes--a mantle of earth-tone, cut-velvet flowers.
For all of her outfits, Zandi can make fabric-covered shoes to match. Day-wear prices start at $750; evening gowns begin at $1,500.
Asked about her clientele, Zandi says some are career women. "Or they are wives--with wealthy husbands--who need clothes for parties, trips and weddings."
The Jody Russell boutique on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles is another world entirely. Her stock ranges from silky, bubble-style cocktail dresses--"for my Republican fund-raiser customers," she jokes--to hip-looking, black-net-petticoat outfits she calls "rock 'n' roll" clothes.
Russell's tiny design studio is part of the main room in her converted bungalow shop. She describes herself as an entrepreneur, not a dressmaker.
Russell worked as a personal shopper and handled celebrities' stage wardrobes before she opened her store about a year ago, she says. She consults with the store's in-house designer, Peggy Fetner, for her private-label styles, priced from about $300.
She also carries some ready-to-wear clothes by other designers. Everything is for special occasions.
More shops like hers are opening because people want individual attention when they're spending a lot of money, Russell says. In addition, she says, she and "the other little-guy shops are fighting the boredom factor." She says she sees it in some bigger stores where the merchandise is predictable and the atmosphere can be impersonal and cold. Her motto: "Spend money in my store and I won't forget you."
For women who don't spend a lot of time in stores, the efficiency factor of the new couture system is very appealing. Susanna Chung Forest, the designer-owner of Susanna Beverly Hills, says many of her regular customers live in distant cities and buy whole wardrobes from her by telephone. She keeps a file on all of them, about their sizes, measurements and personal tastes.
Chung Forest remembers one recent call placed by a woman who was carrying her cold-weather clothes while traveling on business in wintry London. From there she decided to go on to hot, dry Australia and needed another wardrobe. "My fall collection was in the store," Chung Forest begins. "But I made her some outfits in summer fabrics and sent them to her in Australia to arrive when she got there."
Ninety percent of Chung Forest's business is special order, and most of her customers are traveling executives, she says. One of her full-time staff does nothing but keep her supplied with the range of fabrics for hot and cold climates she works with year-round.