An artist in his own right

The Life: A Frenchman who has specialised in copying famous paintings has branched out with his own super-bling fashion design line - and his pieces come complete with anti-theft devices.
Christophe Petyt went from copying master painters to founding the customised luxury wear brand Private Haute Couture. Antonie Robertson / The National
Christophe Petyt went from copying master painters to founding the customised luxury wear brand Private Haute Couture. Antonie Robertson / The National

For a man who has won several legal battles, including one against the families of late master painters whose work he copied for a living, pursuing an enterprise with a difference is a must.

Eighteen months ago, the master forger Christophe Petyt was ready to move on from his painting business to his next venture - Private Haute Couture, a customised luxury wear brand.

But like all his work, he wanted to create a brand with its own unique feature. While thinking of a way to redefine "luxury wear", which he admits is a difficult propositon for a new line, he struck upon a brand that no one else except the owner would possess and would come with an anti-theft security device.

So instead of the name of the brand, the products come tagged with the name of the client. And hidden in the folds of a jacket or the heels of a pair of shoes, the anti-theft device has the thickness of three to four credit cards. When connected with a smartphone app, a piercing alarm rings out when it goes out of range.

"The idea was how can I make it different," Mr Petyt says of his brand, sitting in the lobby of an upmarket Dubai hotel wearing a brown ostrich jacket he designed himself. The jacket features 107 pieces of leather, far more than the standard 40 in a normal jacket. Like all of the products from the label, it can take up to six months to finish because of the workmanship that goes into it.

But such handiwork means the pieces come at a price.

In his production house in Paris there are four jackets, with one piece embellished with four diamonds of five carats each and five diamonds of six carats each, costing €500,000 (Dh2.43 million). Although he won't reveal the name, Mr Petyt does concede the jacket is in the making for a famous rapper.

"If you don't go crazy with jewellery, jackets can cost anywhere between US$10,000 and US$80,000," he says, adding that a crocodile hide jacket is the most expensive one in his stable, with those made from ostrich or snakeskin falling further down the scale.

With prices like that it's easy to see why an item might need its own security device.

Mr Petyt, 44, demonstrates how the devices work, using one he digs out from his brown ostrich leather attaché case he designed to match the jacket.

Only one caveat from the maker.

"Do not put the mobile phone in the jacket and then lose it," he says, restoring the device into the crevices of his attaché.

The Frenchman, who first dipped into the designer luxury wear sector in Los Angeles in April last year, brought his brand to the UAE in May this year and expects to have an office by the end of the year in Dubai.

He says he has always been interested in clothes but it was only after a chance compliment about one of his bespoke jackets he was wearing on a flight that triggered him to take his venture commercial.

It is a far cry from his earlier line of business, copying masterpieces from the art world greats.

He still owns and runs his Paris company L'Art du Faux, which specialises in copying masterpieces of Gauguin, Monet and Da Vinci among others, and has won three copyright cases, including one filed by the family of Renoir. All his paintings come with a label at the back saying it is a copy of the original. A private collection of 30 paintings from L'Art du Faux hangs in a home somewhere in Abu Dhabi.

And the most expensive copy ever sold was €160,000 for a Renoir painting to a Saudi buyer.

But today the focus is on clothing rather than art.

Since April last year, Mr Petyt has produced seven jackets and several pairs of shoes, including 35 pairs for himself and eight pairs for a friend.

One Abu Dhabi client has requested a suitcase made of black python skin, customised with several compartments. The final product will cost about €30,000.

As well as the Middle East, Mr Petyt says his Private Haute Couture collection is also on the receiving end of demand from China, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, besides the United States.

But like the paintings and his own designer collection, the entrepreneur wants to go slow.

"I do not want to turn it into a mass product," Mr Petyt says of his haute couture line. "I have zero ambition in terms of sales, because the idea is to do beautiful stuff."

Published: August 7, 2013 04:00 AM


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