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PARIS — The long search is finally over.
Christian Dior on Monday named Raf Simons its next couturier, and said he would unveil his first collection for the house during Paris Couture Week in July. His official title is artistic director of women’s haute couture, ready-to-wear and accessory collections.
The appointment marks the end of a long search process that has captivated the industry, and it confirms a report in WWD on Dec. 13 that the fabled French house was closing in on Simons as the successor to John Galliano, who was ousted in March 2011 following racist and anti-Semitic outbursts at a Paris café.
Simons becomes Dior’s sixth couturier. Successors to the founder — who ignited postwar Paris with his extravagant, full-skirted New Look, and whose brief career ended with his death in 1957 — also included Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan and Gianfranco Ferré.
RELATED STORY: The Couturier Time Line at Christian Dior >>
Simons is the second Belgian designer to arrive at Dior in recent years. Kris Van Assche has been at the helm of Dior Homme men’s wear since 2007.
Dior’s choice of Simons suggests the house is ready to nudge its fashions in a more modern direction — given his predilection for minimalism and futurism — and turn a page on the retro-tinged glamour Galliano plied over a stellar 15-year tenure.
The appointment is also sure to ignite a fresh rivalry between Dior and Yves Saint Laurent, which just named Hedi Slimane its creative director. Slimane was the designer of Dior Homme from 2000 to 2007.
It also ramps up competition in the modernist fashion arena, given that Celine’s Phoebe Philo is another key actor on the Paris stage pushing a minimalist agenda — even as the fall collections seemed to point to a return to embellishment.
Dior and Celine are brands controlled by luxury titan Bernard Arnault, who is chairman and chief executive officer of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. YSL is part of PPR, controlled by the Pinault family.
In a statement released on Monday, Dior trumpeted Simons as “one of today’s greatest talents” who would “propel [Dior’s] iconic style into the 21st century.”
For his part, Simons called founder Christian Dior “the most inspiring couturier. Around the globe, the name Dior symbolizes the ultimate in elegance and refinement.
“It is with the utmost respect for its tremendous history, its unparalleled knowledge and craftsmanship that I am joining the magnificent house of Dior,” he added.
Dior said Simons was not immediately available for comment; however, he confirmed his arrival to Cathy Horyn at The New York Times, who has been a vocal champion of the 44-year-old designer, who was ousted as creative director of Jil Sander in February and succeeded by Jil Sander herself.
A self-trained men’s wear maverick, Simons made a name for himself in women’s wear only since joining Jil Sander in 2005, steering a brand known for purism and sleek tailoring into new territories. As if auditioning for a plum post in the French capital, his last three women’s collections at Jil Sander mined midcentury couture for inspiration, and elicited raves.
Galliano, who brought spectacular showmanship and epic, romantic inspirations to Dior, had in his last years at the house been devoted to more ladylike dressing, turning out collections inspired by the founder’s earlier work and focusing on iconic styles such as its “bar” jacket and grand eveningwear. Dior presented his first collection in 1947.
Simons emerged as a front-runner for the Dior job in November after talks with Marc Jacobs, creative director at sister company Louis Vuitton, failed to produce a deal, and after the house had considered a slew of designers both mature and talented. Those said to have been approached include Slimane, Lanvin’s Alber Elbaz and Balenciaga’s Nicolas Ghesquière, along with younger talents including Maxime Simoens, Jason Wu and Alexander Wang.
It is understood the scope of the Dior job — limited to the women’s universe, and with a grandiose boutique design by American architect Peter Marino that is considered to be off-limits to alteration — proved a hindrance to attracting certain candidates, while others were constrained by ownership stakes or iron-tight contracts at their current houses.