Without Galliano Dior lost its way


PARIS  –  When your collection notes read like an abbreviated history of the art, architecture and fashion design of the 20th century, you know you've got a problem.
Such was the case at Dior's first show in 15 years without its disgraced former creative director John Galliano. The British designer was fired in March amid a scandal over alleged anti-Semitic remarks, and his former right-hand man stepped in Monday, fielding a fall-winter 2011-12 haute couture collection that cited as influences interior designer Jean-Michel Frank, architects Ettore Sottsass and Frank Gehry, graphic designer Jean Paul Gouda, watchmaker Jean Dunned and fashion designer Marc Bohan.
It was as if Bill Gaytten, who took a bow at Monday's show, though Dior executives were quick to stress he has not officially taken over the reins at the house,  were trying to prove his cultural erudition by shoving all those disparate influences into a single show.
In the days following Galliano's firing , which came right before the house's ready-to-wear show after a video showing the designer praising Adolf Hitler went viral on the internet, Dior executives handled the sticky situation with aplomb. Four months on, the same cannot be said.
While Dior was a disappointment, delights abounded at day one of Paris' rarified haute couture displays' the three-day-long extravaganza where 23 cherry-picked labels showcase their savoir faire by creating wildly expensive made-to-measure garments for the world's wealthiest women.
Two newcomers to the elite cadre of approved couture purveyors, dramatic Italian Giambattista Valli and Dutch wunderkind Iris Van Herpen each fielded jaw-dropping collections that suggested that despite the dwindling numbers of buyers, couture still has brilliant days ahead. Displays enter day two on Tuesday with shows by Chanel, Givenchy and Giorgio Armani ? the man behind the clean, graphic gown Princess Charlene wore to the wedding that saw her transformed from commoner into Grace Kelly's successor as the princess of Monaco.
Four months after Galliano was fired, and with no successor yet appointed, it was with bated breath that the small audience of fashion insiders waited to see how whoever was filling Galliano's immense shoes would fare. The reaction was underwhelming: Hoots and thunderous applause erupted from backstage, but the audience greeted the show with a short-lived flurry of halfhearted claps.


The collection simply lacked cohesion. With sections that channeled the fluorescent pop aesthetic of the 1980s, a sort of 1970s Marrakech bohemian vibe, and shiny modernist architecture, the show felt like a bunch of ideas thrown almost randomly together. It was like watching three shows in one, and not a particularly inspiring three shows, at that.

The nipped jackets and pouffy skirts were embellished with the sort of amoeba-shaped appliques in eyepopping shades that were last seen on the costumes of 1987 teen pop sensation Tiffany and worn with oversized plastic cubes or spheres in the guise of hats.

Oversized ballgowns made from petals of delicate chiffon were accessorized with the kinds of cheap glitter-covered novelty headbands you might wear to ring in the New Year, and you couldn't quite tell if sparkly bits on the bodices were part of the dresses or just shreds of confetti.
Gaytten was named creative director at Galliano's signature line, John Galliano, last month, but Dior executives were quick to point out that he hadn't taken the reins at Dior, one of the world's top brands and the jewel in the crown of luxury giant LVMH.
“Mr. Gaytten has done this collection but he is not artistic director.” Dior president Sidney Toledano told journalists backstage in a post-show interview. “We are taking our time because we want to find a long-term solution, and many hypotheses are being explored.”
Given the audience's tepid reaction to Monday's show, it seemed likely that Gaytten would prove more of a stopgap measure. Fashion insiders were hoping Monday's uneven results would push Dior to end the suspense already and designate an official successor to a man who is nothing if not a hard act to follow.
Talk about making an entrance. Valli fairly erupted onto the haute couture calendar Monday with a collection of glamorous sheath dresses and evening gowns that dripped drama.
Valli's signature retro bourgeois dresses have made his pret-a-porter line a favorite among jet-setting It Girls, and dedicated fans like socialite Bianca Brandolini turned out to support his debut among the elite cadre of Paris couturiers.