Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Dior showcases dramatic first Fall collection sans Galliano

This week Dior effectively silenced all rumours and question about the fate of its previous chief designer, John Galliano, by putting out it's first Fall Couture show, under the watchful eye of a Monsieur Bill Gaytten. Gaytten has been waiting in the wings for many years, having assisted Galliano in both Dior's atelier and his own eponymous line, Galliano. Therefore to pragmatists the move will come as little surprise, as the company directors clearly had some massive boots to fill atop their design section.
Gaytten himself has been assisted in the collection by Susanna Venegas, and the two have executed something of a coup de grâce to the spirit of Galliano's influence at the house, by producing a collection which is arguably both more contemporary and refreshing than recent collections by the previous design chief.
Using a delicate mix of mathematical sculpture, such as the numerous 3D shapes evident in the garments and as headgear, the duo have updated what was previously a classic albeit rigid Dior 'look' for Fall 2011-12.

In addition to this, the 'shell-like' usage of cutaway fabrics (as described by Vogue.com) made an interesting respite from Dior's previous distinctive silhouettes.
A final change: the noted absence of fur, normally a staple piece of any Dior Couture show.

Instead, show-stopping colour combinations in floatier fabrics did the trick.
 In general, the fashion pack have been somewhat condemning of this first effort from the new team. Understandably so- fashion is rife with allegiances  and often a select few dictate the opinions of the entire set. Kate Moss and Anna Wintour, friend and mentor of Galliano respectively, have already shown their taccinct support for the designer through continuing to wear his creations to such high profile events as Ms. Moss' wedding this week. 

With these defiances in mind, what does the event and aftermath of Galliano's departure say about the current ethical mindset of the fashion industry? 
The initial condemnation of the ex Dior head, spearheaded by actress Natalie Portman, recent face of Dior's Miss Cherie perfume and sincere advocate of Semitism, mirrored popular opinion around the world. This is understandable- with comments such as Galliano's come consequences, and so to remove this unfortunate man from his position of power fits with the current widespread legal and moral mindset. But underneath the surface of simplicity, can Galliano's comments be seen as an isolated attack on the Jewish community by someone racist and spiteful ? Here exists the moral grey area.

 The endless discarding of the old in favour of a brave new way is a hallmark of the fashion industry, and one which is felt accutely by designers each season when not only their art but their very careers fall into the uncertainty of this phenomenon. As head of one of the most high profile and sought-after design houses, the pressure on Galliano's shoulders was surely of a magnitude experienced in few other ateliers. Buyers, editors, investors and of course fans all added their expectations to the results which the head designer produced, not once, but three times a year. 

How did the designer manage all this pressure? Perhaps to answer it is is necessary to look towards the assistants and day-to-day Dior employees who managed him. A downside which comes with the constant expectation of great art is the narcissism and sycophantism which is often present in the courts of high fashion. For many years before this most famous meltdown it had been widely reported that Galliano had been a victim, perhaps as much as a proprietor, of Golden Cage syndrome- fostered by those with a financial interest in the sustained brilliance of Dior. This curious atmosphere, in which social conventions are ignored in favour of unrestrained hedonism and complete free reign, saw the designer's every whim entertained (in this case a large-scale addiction to sex, excercise and drugs at different points). Critics of the situation far and wide have since pointed to this mis-shapen perception of reality as the cause that drove Galliano down a sorry route, culminating in his anti-Jewish rant in Paris.

The continuation of this unfair treatment of key designers is made more shocking by the fact that we live in an age when fashion is taking more of an ethical conscience than in previous years. The irresponsible working conditions created for designers such as Galliano contrast heavily with the recent adoption of  eco-sustainability and ethical manufacturing by some big brands. But perhaps even these steps can be said to be the product of a current Vogue for feel-good design wear, and an increased need for buyers to feel like they are compensating for the high sums spent with some ethical return. The cold fact of the matter remains that Fashion is a business, and as casualties such as Galliano illustrate, it the end product rather than it's artistic merit or production details, that is the thing most highly prized amongst investors and managers.
 My verdict on Dior's first post-Galliano collection? In business terms the Dior addict, investor and follower have nothing to truly fear from the handing of the reigns over to these new talents. The individuals in question have enough experience in the house of Dior to continue to produce reliable alternatives which stay true to the brand. Artistically, however, replacement is just not as simple. Galliano's eye for drama and talent is not going to be easily recreated- indeed the designer can be said to have defined the contemporary Dior brand- and without his flair and talent perhaps Dior will lose ground to the endless crop of new and vivacious designers on the scene. This is a legacy not easily forgotten, or lived up to, and the demise of such a one-man powerhouse in light of these events would be a tragic thing indeed.

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