The Christian Dior show walked in Paris this afternoon under a cloud of controversy. It was just over a week ago that the house's creative director since 1997, and the architect of much of Dior's growth through the boom years of 2000s, was arrested for an anti-Semitic and racist diatribe in a Paris bar. After a video of another incident, in which a drunken Galliano said, "I love Hitler. People like you would be dead. Your mothers, your forefathers, would all be fucking gassed," came to light, Dior fired him. Dior — a global luxury brand that last year saw revenues of $28 billion, and one of the jewels in parent company Louis Vuitton Moët Hennesy's considerably sparkly crown — is in the delicate position of having to distance itself from Galliano even as it presents his last collection.
The best ways to do that? Condemn Galliano and his reprehensible statements unequivocally, and stress the involvement in this collection of all the other designers, tailors, and pattern-makers from the house's design team. Dior wisely did both. The fashion press seems to be buying it — the Journal has already rated the proceedings "a feat of savvy crisis management" — although the fashion press is a notoriously easy audience. Will the perfume- and necktie-buying public?
Today's Dior show was preceded by a very unusual sight: Company C.E.O. Sidney Toledano took to the runway to deliver a speech. It said, in part, "What has happened over the last week has been a terrible and wrenching ordeal for us all.
It has been deeply painful to see the Dior name associated with the disgraceful statements attributed to its designer, however brilliant he may be. Such statements are intolerable because of our collective duty to never forget the Holocaust and its victims, and because of the respect for human dignity that is owed to each person and to all peoples." Toledano, whose Jewish father was deported from Vichy France during World War II, also mentioned that Christian Dior's sister was deported to Buchenwald. "In the aftermath of the dark years of the war, he sought to free women, to give them back their sparkle and joyfulness. Christian Dior's values were those of excellence in all that he undertook, of elegance and of craftsmanship reflecting his unique talent. His mission was not only to make his clients — indeed all women — more beautiful, but also to make them happy, to help them dream."
That appeal to authenticity (and to the equally nebulous idea of "dreams") completed, the show opened with a slew of looks that seemed like classic Galliano: over-the-knee boots, capes, and piratical jaunty hats.
Booth Moore of the Los Angeles Times called this "an average collection for the house. Nothing surprising."
Christina Binkley of the Journal noted that the clothes betrayed no sign of the controversy (though it would be weird if they did, because they were all under way well before Galliano's public unraveling). "Ultra-feminine, it reflected flirty styles from the early 20th century — and seemed primed for flappers, knickered ruffians, and ladies in their boudoirs."
Cathy Horyn of the Times: "The clothes were quintessential Dior: smart-looking jackets in wool plaids, cute skirts with platform boots, kittenish furs worked with ribbon, and lingerie-inspired evening clothes."
The lone Galliano supporter outside the venue, the one with the sign reading "The King Is Dead," told the BBC that "I am here for like what he does, what he did for the fashion and not for what he's speaking."
As for Galliano, he is believed to be at a rehab center in Arizona. He apologized "unreservedly" for the incident, but also denied ever having made any racist remarks. He is the subject of two police investigations, and French prosecutors recently confirmed that he will face charges of using anti-Semitic and racist hate speech. If found guilty, he could be fined nearly $40,000, spend six months in prison, or both.
The show closed, and having no designer to send out to take the traditional bow, Dior sent 40-odd petites mains from its atelier out onto the catwalk. The crowd responded with a standing ovation.
"They handled it well," said one American retail executive of Dior's response to the crisis. "Enough. Now it's about the product."