PARIS Paris Fashion Week kicked off on Tuesday under a cloud of economic pessimism mixed with uncertainty about the creative direction of some of the world's biggest fashion brands including Dior, Louis Vuitton, Celine and Yves Saint Laurent.
After New York, London and Milan, Paris closes the season of presentations for next spring and summer with nine days of shows at which designers will be fighting for buyers and media attention amid worries about a possible economic slowdown.
In an early sign of trouble, Barbara Bui, one of France's few listed fashion brands, said earlier this month trading had become more unpredictable as it was concerned rising European taxes could affect consumer spending.
The next three months to Christmas is the make-or-break period for fashion brands when they sell the most products at full price. It is also when orders for next spring are made.
In France, business and consumer confidence slumped in September as investors questioned the solidity of the banking system, future growth prospects and whether the current euro zone debt crisis could be solved.
Making the industry's future even more of a guessing game, many top fashion houses are looking to for a next generation of designers to inject youth and excitement.
Christian Dior's show on Friday will be the talk of the town as the brand is still without a designer six months after the departure of John Galliano whose career at the French house ended abruptly after making anti-Semitic remarks at a Paris bar.
Dior's first show without Galliano in July was panned by critics as confusing and too zany.
Sources close to LVMH, the world's biggest maker of luxury goods which controls Dior, say Marc Jacobs, currently designer at sister brand Louis Vuitton, could succeed Galliano.
But media reports suggest negotiations are proving difficult partly for money reasons. If it happened, the move would trigger a new series of revolving doors within LVMH's stable of fashion brands and other fashion companies.
Late on Monday, Yves Saint Laurent moved to quash media speculation that Raf Simons, Jil Sander's current designer, could replace Stefano Pilati at the French fashion brand.
There has also been speculation Phoebe Philo, the creative head at Celine who has successfully revamped the brand since 2008 with her minimalist style, could take over at Louis Vuitton if Jacobs left for Dior.
Much of the fashion press in recent weeks has been welcoming Jacob's potential arrival at Dior as he is regarded as a safe pair of hands with a proven track record.
Jacobs is credited with helping turn Louis Vuitton into the world's biggest luxury brand, raking in nearly 6 billion euros ($8 billion) in annual sales and generating more than half of LVMH's operating profits.
Discussions regarding Jacobs come as Louis Vuitton recently named Jordi Constans, a former Danone executive, as successor to current chief executive Yves Carcelle after a transition year and starting in early 2013.
Louis Vuitton's show on Wednesday will be among the last of Paris Fashion Week. Prior to it, fashion experts will focus on Lanvin, which like Dior is on Friday and is seen as a trend-setter.
Other major shows include Hermes and John Galliano - its first without its founding designer - on Sunday. Later on Tuesday, all eyes will be on Chanel, Valentino and Alexander McQueen's whose designer Sarah Burton is all the rage since she designed Kate Middleton's wedding dress.
Much of focus will also be on the performance of newcomers following an unprecedented wave of departures last spring at high-profile brands such as Balmain, Azzaro, Chloe, Cacharel and Kenzo. Their respective successors will be presenting their first collections this week.
Fashion watchers will also expect an update at Sonia Rykiel, one of the last family-controlled French fashion houses, which is looking for investors to expand in new markets such as Asia.
($1 = 0.742 Euros)