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After Galliano storm, restrained Raf Simons picked as Dior’s chief designer
After more than a year of speculation, the French fashion house Dior has picked Belgian designer Raf Simons to replace John Galliano as artistic director. France24.com takes a closer look at an unusual decision.
After more than a year of top-secret talks and media speculation, the legendary 66-year-old French fashion house Dior has found a successor to chief designer John Galliano, who was fired over a year ago for making anti-Semitic remarks in a Paris bar.
Raf Simons, a 44-year-old Flemish Belgian who began his career as a furniture designer before turning to men’s and then women’s clothing, will take over as artistic director, Dior announced Monday. He will premiere his first haute couture collection in Paris in July, and will also oversee ready-to-wear and women’s accessories.
A statement by Dior called Simons - known for streamlined, youthful-looking, often brightly coloured clothing - “one of the greatest current talents” and said he would “inspire and propel into the 21st century” the Dior brand. The statement quoted Simons as saying he was “thrilled” with the news and praising his new employer as “the symbol of absolute elegance”.
The choice of Simons is an “unusual” one, according to International Herald Tribune online style editor Jessica Michault; Dior fashion is traditionally “romantic and feminine”, whereas Simons favours “clean designs without a lot of embellishments” and is known as having “a very pure sensibility”, she told France24.com.
Mellow and minimalist
Simons’ work is certainly much more modern and minimalist than that of his predecessor Galliano, Michault explained. He also has a reputation as a mellower, less controversial figure than Galliano, who was found guilty of hate speech by a French court – and completed two stints of rehab - following his epithet-laced outbursts.
But Simons was not initially considered a frontrunner for the plum position. US designer Marc Jacobs, the artistic director at Louis Vuitton, was said to be the favourite until salary negotiations reportedly soured last summer. And Lanvin’s Alber Elbaz is said to have turned down an offer.
Simons is seen as a force in the fashion world, but his designs as creative director of German fashion house Jil Sander were thought to be too pared-down for the more elaborate Dior style. Moreover, his clothing did not sell spectacularly, the International Herald Tribune’s Michault pointed out. “That has been the main critique of Simons, and is rumoured to be the reason he lost his job at Jil Sander,” she noted, referring to the high-profile dismissal in February from a position he had held since 2005.
Now, at Dior, Simons will be expected to use what Michault describes as his “hands-on, meticulous” professional approach to navigate the future of a brand that is boosting its global visibility (the company recently opened a flagship in Taipei) and trying to remain fresh in a competitive market
The challenge ahead: ‘starting from scratch’
Born in Neerpelt, near the Dutch border, Simons studied industrial design before finding jobs designing furniture for art galleries and individual clients. He transitioned into clothing in the 90s, working for a Belgian designer in Paris and branching out to release his own menswear creations in Milan in 1995.
By 2000, Simons was garnering glowing reviews world-wide for his classic, though innovative designs. Still, he often complained in interviews of being “stifled” by the commercial pressures of the fashion world – a feeling he tried to exorcise by mounting edgy, offbeat Paris runway shows set in streets or parking garages, or on bridges.
Simons started designing women’s clothing in 2004, and by 2008 had expanded his talents to crafting accessories such as handbags and glasses. He opened two boutiques in Japan, and his collections could be found on shelves in chic stores around the globe, like Barney’s in New York.
Despite the substantial career Simons has behind him, his new position will come with a new set of challenges. “He’ll probably want to start from scratch,” Michault told France24.com. “He’ll want to make people forget the Galliano era and recreate Dior in his own image.”