Thursday, July 29, 2004

The fuchsia organza top is $2,105, worn with a wool gabardine and leather skirt ($1,255), leather jacket ($5,755), and "The Gambler" bag ($1,440), perfect for your next Vegas trip.

Dior, your way!

The fashion boutique
finds its niche by appealing
to a wide range of tastes

The No. 1 rule of marketing is "know your customer," and for most companies that starts with a description, whether it's "14-year-old video game addict" or "50-year-old exec with a Harley habit." Fashion's target can be equally narrow, but when it comes to the house of Dior, it's B.Y.O.A. -- bring your own aesthetic.

It couldn't be any other way for a house whose designer, John Galliano, finds inspiration in anything from cowboys and the homeless, to newspaper print, to the belle époque and European royalty. If he's not setting limits for himself, he's not about to create commandments for anyone else, and that's refreshing to contemporary souls dealing with rules in all other aspects of life, from dating to IRS dictates.

Marla Sabo, president and COO of Christian Dior, North America, confirms this notion.

"If someone were to ask me to describe the Dior customer, it would be really difficult," Sabo said. "If you stand in one of our stores at any given time, you'd see groups of young girls, rap stars, matrons, grandmothers and men. It's a broad cross-section we appeal to."

Model Ying Ying shows Dior designer John Galliano's work at its most romantic, in a soft silk-chiffon gown, at $6,000. The Diorlywood Deco clutch in peach satin is $750.

Galliano was among the designers who helped revitalize Paris' couture houses that were subject less than 10 years ago to the question "Is couture dead?" because of their aging client base.

Today it's another story as music and film stars have flocked to luxury brands, and Dior has courted the likes of Gwen Stefani, Mary J. Blige, Charlize Theron and Brandy with sexy silhouettes and wild splashes of color fit for center stage, whether performing or making an entrance at a dinner banquet.

These days, Sabo said, "There's a lot of energy in the house, and we've worked hard to be accessible."

"We make things that are very optimistic, that strike a chord with any age group," Sabo said. Sales have reflected that, even immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, when she said people flocked to their stores as a pick-me-up or to commiserate.

In Hawaii, she said, "Your economy has been up and down, but our business here has always been strong."

Sabo was in town last weekend for the grand opening of the new Dior boutique at 2222 Kalakaua Ave., sandwiched between Louis Vuitton and Duty Free, an area that is rapidly becoming the Paris of the Pacific. The new boutique is Dior's second in Hawaii and its 16th women's boutique in the United States.

Leopard print returns for fall at Dior. The skirt is $1,150, cognac leather jacket is $3,740 and Lady Dior purse is $1,175. Under the jacket is a black cashmere top at $610.

Those eyeing the inaugural collections will find Rasta wear -- including a $245 swimsuit in Dior's signature jacquard with red, yellow and green details -- and accessories that are currently Dior's top sellers, having overtaken the pink-and-white floral, girly look of spring. And coming up strong for late summer is the golf look in purses and other accessories. (Has anyone told Hawaii's golf goddess Michelle Wie?)

"We have everything from casual bathing suits to business wear to fun tops to wear with jeans, and I've seen them worn many different ways by many different clients," Sabo said. "We never say this is how it looks from head to toe. You're free to mix it up any way you please, so it's interesting to see how people dress it up. Everyone tends to personalize it."

Therefore, the one characteristic a Dior woman must have is a bold stroke of individuality and the confidence to be a fashion renegade, bowing only to her own inner muse, not red-carpet critics.

Sabo remembers her first encounter with the phenomenon on the streets of New York. "A woman, in her late 30s to 40s, had taken what was intended to be evening wear and wore it very casually, like a day dress with flat sandals, and she looked very chic."

Sabo continues to be amazed by the speed at which fashion news circles the globe, so that fashion fans from Tokyo to Paris feed on the same images and trends.

"The world is very small all of a sudden," Sabo said, "and Hawaii is an important market, so we have to represent Dior very well."

Ying Ying models a two piece bathing suit with matching jacket and purses.

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