On Wednesday, the Paris fashion house will announce that Raf Simons will take over immediately as artistic director, replacing John Galliano, who was fired from Dior last year following anti-Semitic remarks. His first collection is planned for July at the fall haute couture shows.
The choice of Mr. Simons follows more than a year of discussions and apparent soul searching by Dior and its boss, Bernard Arnault, who is chairman of LVMH, about the ideal person to give creative direction to the 66-year-old luxury brand.
In an interview Monday, Mr. Simons expressed delight at the appointment. “The first time I heard about the Dior position,” he said, “I thought, ‘This feels right.’ ”
Marc Jacobs, the American star at Louis Vuitton, was a favorite until talks broke down late last summer, reportedly over compensation. Other big names, including Alber Elbaz of Lanvin, rejected Dior’s advances. Highly regarded or not, Dior seemed to have trouble finding someone.
In October, its chief executive, Sidney Toledano, said the search could take months. A few weeks later he, Mr. Arnault and his daughter, Delphine Arnault, the deputy director of Dior, began talks with Mr. Simons.
At the time Mr. Simons, 44, was at Jil Sander. But while Mr. Simons is influential, having started the trend for bright colors that has washed over much of the affordable clothing market, and was in discussions in 2010 with French rival PPR about taking over Yves Saint Laurent, he was not widely seen as a candidate for Dior. His minimalist designs for Jil Sander seemed at odds with Dior’s ultra-femininity. And he is a low-key presence in a business that tends to love Barnum types.
At his studio in Antwerp, where he has run a separate men’s wear business since the mid ’90s, he often answers the phone himself.
Dior was founded on frivolous yards of expensive French silk as Europe lay in ruins from World War II. The shock of Christian Dior’s New Look, with its tiny waists and generous skirts, gave the house a reputation for excess, as well as a taste for headlines. In 1996, seeking to capitalize on that legacy, Mr. Arnault replaced the cerebral Gianfranco Ferré with a former British punk, John Galliano. He quickly ripped into Dior’s stodgy image — literally.
A 2000 couture show was based on the clothes of homeless people. Although Mr. Galliano’s techniques led to a wave of deconstructed and frayed fashion, Dior was criticized (at one point during the uproar, riot police surrounded the house), and Mr. Galliano had to apologize.
His creative excesses continued to be celebrated, if not indulged, by the press as well as his bosses. “I would never put a limit on my goals,” Mr. Galliano told the writer Michael Specter in 2003. “I would love to see what a John Galliano airplane would look like, or a hotel.” His runway appearances, which demanded a special outfit and dramatic lighting, were part of his act, although they increasingly indicated a fragile, isolated personality.
Revenues for Christian Dior Couture, which includes ready-to-wear and accessories, grew steadily over the decade, to $1.39 billion in 2011.
Then, in February of last year, Mr. Galliano wrecked his career with an anti-Semitic rant caught on a cellphone camera. Fired from Dior, he was later found guilty by a French tribunal in connection with two separate bar clashes in Paris with people who accused him of hate crimes. He told the court he could remember nothing about the incidents, blaming his behavior on job stress and addiction to Valium and alcohol.
Temperamentally, Mr. Simons is the opposite of Mr. Galliano, who, according to a close friend, admired Mr. Simons’s show in February for Jil Sander, a collection of delicately feminine clothes in pinks and beige. It was also Mr. Simons’s last for Sander. He was fired shortly before the show, replaced by the brand’s founder.
Although discussions with Dior were always ongoing, nothing was firm, and there was a lag during the ready-to-wear shows, which ended early March, perhaps to avoid media attention. Talks resumed soon after.
At the same time there was speculation among American retailers and journalists that Dior might decide to retain Bill Gaytten, its studio chief, who has supervised collections since Mr. Galliano’s dismissal. Also, in separate but intriguing news, Saint Laurent announced it was replacing Stefano Pilati with Hedi Slimane, the former men’s designer at YSL and subsequently Dior.
In the men’s wear arena, Mr. Simons and Mr. Slimane were seen as rivals. And they are likely to be so again as Mr. Simons expands into haute couture and Mr. Slimane takes on women’s fashion for the first time.
“Of course I haven’t been in the archives yet, but for me the strongest impact is the first 10 years of Dior and how to link that to the 21st century,” Mr. Simons said Monday. “Mr. Dior was very innovative during a short time span. And it was in the middle of the 20th century, a period I am very interested in, whether it’s linked to fashion, architecture or art. So I find it very challenging to rethink couture.”
He added: “I’m not one of those people who would say, ‘Ah, couture makes no sense anymore because everything today should be accessible.’ Clearly there is an interest from people in this level of creativity.” And because haute couture has few limits, it is already provocative, he said, “considering what has happened in the last 10 years, with fashion becoming more mass produced.”
While not the obvious choice for Dior, given his history in avant-garde men’s fashion, Mr. Simons is nonetheless the logical one. In his six years at Jil Sander he expanded its minimalist form to include more-feminine shapes, some based on ’50s couture. (Indeed, in the interview on Monday, Mr. Simons noted Dior’s affinity for naming his collections after shapes, like the Corolla.)
More telling are his men’s shows, in the mid ’90s, in which he often projected a generation’s ideas and obsessions against a monumental backdrop. A romantic is surely what he is. His contract with Dior allows him to continue his own men’s line. Among his responsibilities will be overseeing advertising and lending his opinions in other areas as needed.
He faces challenges at Dior. One is to fully grasp the demands of a global brand, especially as it spreads through Asia (the company recently opened a new flagship in Taipei) and in emerging markets. Dior also has the opportunity to sharpen its signature look, so that its apparel is recognizable in the street, as Chanel already is.
Asked if he had concerns about the pressures of a big house, Mr. Simons said he did not. “I’m someone who takes responsibility,” he said, adding that his approach is collaborative. “I’m not an isolated person. The more I connect to people, the more I have the feeling that things work.”
I'm still hesitant to believe it's true this time It's absolutely fantastic news, though. When his name first came up in the Dior debate I wasn't sure he would be the right successor to Galliano but now with him having been fired at Jil Sander I'm just really happy Raf got the chance to take over another (and even bigger) house. Finally we can get excited about Dior collections again
Congratulations to Raf! After more than year of rumours and speculations, it's good to finally have the announcement. Excited to see Raf's couture debut in 3 months. It will be a good indication of the direction he will take the house to.
The right man for the job! Jil Sander and Dior's Fall/Winter 12.13 collections were very similar in aesthetic, with Raf's Jil version being the better executed and more exciting of the two. I'm excited to see what he does with the house, I don't think we have to worry about him changing anything too drastically, he'll just breathe some new life into it and provide the stability they need after the Galliano debacle.