Christian Dior: Carry on couture

By Susannah Frankel

Life after Galliano begins - but Dior still knows how to put on a show.

For the first time in almost 15 years, the recent autumn/winter haute couture season opened in Paris with a Christian Dior show that did not feature John Galliano.

Instead, it fell to 51-year-old designer Bill Gaytten, who was last week named Galliano's successor at his eponymous label, and is head of the Christian Dior studio, to claim the credit.

Held in tents in the gardens of the Rodin Museum, it was a suitably overblown occasion. Larger-than-life-size petal skirts, corsetry, ruffled collars and candy colours were on display in abundance, all more than paying lip-service to the house's nostalgic and ultra-feminine heritage.

Gaytten has not been officially appointed couturier at Dior although this latest move will no doubt send the rumour mill - which has been turning since Galliano was sacked in March - into overdrive.

To say that the relatively unknown designer, who worked with Galliano for more than 20 years, has his work cut out would be an understatement.

Galliano, who is standing trial on charges of anti-Semitism after an altercation outside a Paris cafe, will learn his fate in September. Whatever happens, and for all his sins, the creative energy he brought to Dior for almost 15 years is unsurpassed.

The twice-yearly couture shows represent the jewel in the crown of French fashion.

It is not uncommon for a single garment to be priced at tens and even hundreds of thousands of pounds. The reason is that each look sent out on this most rarefied of schedules is hand-made from start to finish by the most accomplished craftspeople in fashion and fitted to anyone wealthy enough to buy a piece. Although it is an anachronistic affair, to dismiss the few hundred women in the world who can and do spend eye-watering sums on a perfectly tailored day-suit, say, or exquisitely embellished gown, would be misguided.

Bruno Pavlovsky, president of fashion at Chanel, told trade paper Women's Wear Daily last week that revenues for Chanel couturier Karl Lagerfeld's summer collection unveiled six months ago, have been "exceptional ... The sales and numbers of pieces significantly increased, with numerous new clients in markets such as China".

Highpoints on this week's calendar include presentations courtesy of Jean-Paul Gaultier, Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli for Valentino, and Giorgio Armani, who dressed Charlene Wittstock for her wedding to Prince Albert II of Monaco.

Also of note: the rarely-seen designer, Azzedine Alaia, will make his first couture week appearance since 2003.

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