The year-long drama surrounding the house of Dior has finally found resolution with the appointment of Belgian designer Raf Simons as its new Creative Director, who replaces the disgraced John Galliano. After cellphone footage surfaced last February of Galliano drunkenly spewing anti-Semitic comments, the seminal French luxury label fired him amid international media outrage. Ever since, the debate over who would replace the designer has remained a fixation of the beau monde.
The changing of the guard at any major design house is fit for lengthy speculation and discussion (see: YSL), but Dior’s passing-of-the-torch tale was particularly epic, given Galliano’s tempestuous cult of personality and the unmistakable artistic impact he left on Dior’s reinvented brand identity. Marc Jacobs seemed the initial frontrunner for the job, with his appointment status nearly secured by late summer – or so we thought. Then talks fell through, and less obvious selections were thrown into the ether. Whispers of everyone from Hedi Slimane to Jason Wu to Alexander Wang emerged; even Kanye West’s favorite designer, Riccardo Tisci (currently at Givenchy), was allegedly an option. However, by autumn, Dior representatives confirmed they were in no rush to decide, understandably taking the decision very seriously. The large shoes Galliano left could only be filled by an equally strong character.
In that sense, Simons is an interesting choice as Dior’s director. The soft-spoken, Antwerp-based innovator is charmingly low-key – an anomaly, New York Times critic Cathy Horyn points out, in an industry that “love[s] Barnum types.” But Simons, whose recent departure as creative lead from Jil Sander signified something else was in the works, is reportedly thrilled with his new position, saying, “It feels right.” His provenance in the avant-garde bodes interestingly for the heritage brand. As one of Belgium’s leading luminaries – and a vanguard of the mythical Antwerp Six – he demonstrates a commanding balance of cerebral restraint with bold experimentation in color and form. Dior, a Parisian luxury brand built upon Versailles-worthy notions of excess, is about to have its DNA mutated yet again.
“Mr. Dior was very innovative during a short time span,” Simons told the Times, referring to Christian Dior’s breakthrough post-war New Look era. “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.”
Dior’s Fall 2012 Couture show, set to present in Paris in July, will mark Simons’ first collection under the iconic label’s name.