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Driving Dior

Christian Dior is using the importance of cruise and pre-spring to unveil an expansion of its product offerings aimed at broadening its customer base.

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Embroidered silk suit.

Photo By WWD Staff

PARIS — When Christian Dior goes on a cruise, who's invited?

Practically everyone.

Exemplifying the growing importance of cruise and pre-spring collections, the French house is using the season to unveil a major expansion of its product offerings, designed to broaden its customer base as it continues to build ever-larger stores and pushes into new markets like South America.

In an exclusive interview with WWD, Dior designer John Galliano and chief executive officer Sidney Toledano explained how they're "upping the ante," as Galliano put it, with an arsenal of products to reach more age groups, dressing occasions and fashion tastes.

"We're at that stage now where we're opening much more, which is a great challenge as a designer. We'd like to embrace a much larger audience," an upbeat Galliano said, bearing no apparent ill effects from his recent fall through the glass shower door in his Paris apartment. While the accident prevented him from attending this month's CFDA Awards in New York, the only remnants were a few bandages on his hands.

Ready-to-wear, often a mere image vehicle for some luxury houses to drive sales of their leather goods, remains a key expansion tack for Dior as the fashion house strives to reach an oft-stated target of $1 billion in sales by 2007. Sales of the pre-spring collection alone have doubled in the last five years.

Dior's footwear category, which Toledano said has grown tenfold in only three years to "several hundred thousand" pairs a year, also is emblematic of the diversification drive. The cruise and pre-spring offerings span "vintage trainers to killer heels," said Galliano, surveying a roomful of his designs. The designer even found a way to incorporate some of the exclusive prints he develops for rtw into dressy heels and sporty flats. He said it was a request that came directly from Dior's store network, and he was happy to oblige.

Last year, sales of Dior fashions and accessories totaled 595 million euros, or $740.1 million, a 14 percent increase on a reported basis. Meanwhile, operating income spiked 25 percent to 50 million euros, or $62.2 million.

"We're a global company," said Toledano, an understated foil in a quiet gray suit to Galliano's paint-splattered, pinstriped getup. "We don't want to be a shoe company or a bag company. We're a couture house and people expect to see ready-to-wear at Dior."
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