When it was announced that Alexander Wang would be leaving his position as creative director at Balenciaga, no one was immensely surprised: critics scoffed at collections and more importantly, sales were down. Raf Simons’ decision to leave Dior comes as much more of a shock. The brand has stated that Raf is leaving due to “personal reasons,” including desire to further grow his menswear brand and do other things with his life. Fair enough. Running two brands has to be one of the most emotionally and physically draining lifestyles a human could possibly lead (with all the Raf Simons and Dior collections, Raf was doing a whopping 10 collections a year). But if you have seen ‘Dior and I’ you might have noticed Raf also had early difficulty adjusting to the atelier of the house. When working with his own brand, and to a lesser extent at Jil Sander, Raf probably grew accustomed to having an idea and then having his team do everything in their powers to bring forth that idea into fruition. The film shows Raf angry over things like finding out that his Dior pattern cutter had flown to New York on a couture trip when he is on a three week deadline to unleash his first Dior collection to the world. Though the film eventually portrays Raf and the Dior atelier coming to terms and celebrating a magnificent first collection, it stands to reason that this wouldn’t be the last time that the designer would find himself annoyed over the stifling big business-minded practices of Dior.
I would have liked to see much more Raf Simons at Dior. His departure is made all the more surprising when you watch this video from the Business of Fashion: Raf seemed like he was all in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCkpCPZ59l8. But there’s no point in lamenting. Instead, let’s celebrate the wonderful Raf Simons X Dior moments: Fall 2012 Haute Couture, FW 2013, SS 2014, Resort 2015, and so much more.
All and all, I’d argue that in only thee years Raf Simons established himself in the lineage of the great Dior creative directors along with Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, John Galliano, and Christian Dior himself.
So who the hell is going to be able to fill the Raf Simons-sized hole in the middle of Dior’s womenswear department? Here's a few educated predictions by Autre's trusty fashion editor-at-large, Adam Lehrer.
When Scottish designer Christopher Kane founded his namesake label in 2006, the tight fitting silhouette was at the forefront of fashion. Kane revived a looser fit, allowing billowy and loose-fitting garments to hang from the body that remained effortlessly elegant. That effortlessness would be ideal for Dior, a label that prides itself on putting out clothes that women feel both beautiful and comfortable in. His color palette, full of blood reds and powerful blues, would feel right at home in the context of Dior ready-to-wear collections. On top of all that, Kane seems to have a true understanding of quality, and has always known how to price his garments accordingly. If you pair that knowledge of quality with the limitless resources and powerful atelier of Dior, Kane might be able to match the success of his predecessor in a role as creative director at the label.
Considering how successful, even revolutionary, Phoebe Philo has been in her role as creative director of Céline, it’s unlikely that LVMH would encourage the designer to leave her role and take on a new one at Dior. Philo has always had the remarkable ability to leave her mark on a house while paying respects to its ethos as she has done in her roles leading Chloé and Céline. She is very often thought of as something of a minimal designer (as was Raf), but minimal can be such a reductive term when describing what she does (and what Raf does). I would better describe it as restrained. Restrained fashion can be interpreted as effortless, and effortless is central to the mission of Dior. She also is not given enough credit for her penchant for feminine opulence; take a look at her FW 2015 collection that featured zebra patterns and pom poms. And with Dior always claiming to be ground zero for discovering knew ways for women to dress, isn’t it about time they let a woman decide those new ways?
My personal wild card. As unlikely as seeing Gareth Pugh enlisted to a house as commercial as Dior is, you have to admit that the idea is interesting. Pugh would most likely be hard pressed to accept a position at Dior, considering this is the man who squatted to be able to afford his runway shows before his clothes actually sold anywhere. But Raf was once a designer that people best thought of for making male noise rockers and Goths look luxurious, granted his successful tenure at Jil Sander. The point is: a conceptual designer isn’t out of place at a house like Dior. Raf is conceptual. Galliano is certainly conceptual (the dude set a haute couture show to the Stooges, one of the best fashion shows ever by the way). Yves was definitely conceptual. I am very interested in seeing what Pugh would be able to do if he was given the constraints that Dior places on him. In his own label, he’s proved that he can do whatever he wants and he’s done so wonderfully. But what would his clothes look like if he knew he had to hit certain sales figures? Pugh’s SS 2016 collection felt like a new direction for his brand where he seemed openly interested in high society and it was one of his best shows to date. I guarantee that anyone with Pugh’s talent level could be a commercial juggernaut; it’s just about honing that vision into something relatable.
According to WWD, Alber Elbaz has just exited Lanvin. At first, I was pretty taken aback. Elbaz, at this point, IS Lanvin: the Israeli designer is coming up on his 15th year at the label and has enjoyed immense success peddling an unabashed feminine aesthetic, revolutionizing the fashion sneaker (along with Lanvin menswear designer Lucas Ossendrijver), and seeing his garments worn by Kate Moss, Chloe Sevigny, and Sofia Coppola. So why would he leave now? There was apparently tension between him and Lanvin majority shareholder Shaw Lin-Wang, but it appears that that tension has existed for a while. Us industry folks will most certainly speculate on this being a power move for Elbaz, seizing the opportunity that Raf left open at Dior. Though Raf did wonderfully at Dior, his pension for futurism and conceptual ideas assumedly put him at odds with the atelier and shareholders. That tension can yield some amazing collections but isn't a built-to-last situation. Elbaz was a frontrunner to step in for John Galliano at Dior in 2011. Perhaps Dior is looking at a top-shelf designer that is unabashed about his love for feminine classicism. Raf did well at re-defining Dior, but Elbaz should do excellent at defining Dior. Exciting fashion stuff folks!
Adam Lehrer is a writer, journalist, and art and fashion critic based in New York City. On top of being Autre’s fashion and art correspondent, he is also a regular contributor to Forbes Magazine. His unique interests in punk, hip hop, skateboarding and subculture have given him a distinctive, discerning eye and voice in the world of culture, et al. Oh, and he also loves The Sopranos. Follow him on Instagram: @adam102287
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