>> Designers are clocking an increased demand for the high-end side of ready-to-wear — demi-couture, as it's called. Mary Katrantzou's Jewel Tree dress, left, which required four studios putting in more than 150 hours to make, caused one seamstress to cry, and retails at $14,200, sold 18 units this Fall. Matthew Williamson president Joseph Velosa reports: "Pieces over $5,000 now account for six percent of our business. To put that into context, two years ago we sold nothing at that price." And Azzedine Alaia joined the couture schedule in July, showing what he called "semi-couture" — pieces which could be purchased as-is — to much acclaim.

Although these clothes have price tags that run mid-four to five figures, they are sold off the rack through the typical retail channels, rather than involving the time commitment of multiple atelier fittings like a couture piece does. Katrantzou's Jewel Tree dress, for instance, is currently available on Net-a-Porter and can be delivered next day.

Jason Wu, who has a houndstooth tweed overcoat with gold bullion embroidery for $15,000 and started using Paris ateliers like Lesage and Lemarie a few seasons ago, says: "Between all the designer collaborations and everything that's going on, we need to give people a reason to buy. There are some things that just can't be done for cheaper."

And Prabal Gurung, who is selling a hand-painted organza and braided chiffon gown for $15,000, adds: "There's a customer who wants this stuff, but it's like one in each city. You hope to sell a lot, but five total is great."