The $10m man with designs on Galliano's old job

By Susannah Frankel

Paris may be home to the most spectacular shows, courtesy of the world's biggest brands, but the intrigue bubbling away just beneath the catwalk as the city's fashion week gets underway looks as if it will have as high an impact as the clothes.

The rumour mill has gone into overdrive over who will be taking creative control of two of French fashion's biggest names: Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent.

Only hours after John Galliano was sacked as creative director of Dior, having been accused of racism and anti-Semitism (he has since been found guilty on both counts) it was suggested that everyone from Givenchy's Riccardo Tisci to Alexander McQueen's Sarah Burton and Balenciaga's Nicolas Ghesquiere might succeed him.

Last month, however, the fashion trade paper, Women's Wear Daily, reported that Marc Jacobs, currently creative director of his own label shown in New York earlier this month, and of Louis Vuitton, is the frontrunner. It is expected that his appointment may be announced imminently.

With less fanfare but significant nonetheless, at the top of her review of the designer Raf Simons' collection for Jil Sander, shown in Milan last Saturday, the respected International Herald Tribune fashion editor, Suzy Menkes, said that designer was believed to be moving to Yves Saint Laurent.

"If Raf Simons ultimately takes over the helm at Yves Saint Laurent - as those familiar with the situation in Paris suggest," Menkes wrote, "the designer will have found a sweet spot for his meticulous modernism."

But first, Jacobs. His signing by Dior would be a smart move. Both Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton are owned by France's largest luxury goods conglomerate, LVMH, and it is well known that the company's chairman and CEO, Bernard Arnault, is a huge supporter of Jacobs' work. Indeed, it was Arnault who put both Galliano and Jacobs in their respective positions in the first place. Of all the designers working today, it is Jacobs who is considered to have the Midas touch.

An American-born talent who shot to fame - not to mention some degree of infamy - when he dared to put grunge onto the Perry Ellis catwalk in the early nineties, his shows are both critically and commercially successful season after season, and he is one of few in possession of the sheer energy and audacity required to take on such a demanding and high-profile role.

Since Galliano's departure, Dior has been designed by his studio, with Bill Gaytten, who worked alongside his mentor for 23 years, at the helm. Gaytten himself, who formally took over the John Galliano signature line in June, was just one of the names in the frame for the top job at Dior. Following a lacklustre haute couture collection in July, however, his appointment as creative director of the far bigger name appears highly unlikely.

The powers that be at Jil Sander, meanwhile, deny claims that Simons may be moving, but fuelling this particular fire is the fact that, for the past three seasons, the designer has branched out from his hitherto androgynous style and monochromatic colour palette to embrace an overblown couture silhouette and the sort of unlikely colour juxtapositions Yves Saint Laurent himself was best known for.

Those occupying the front rows in Paris will wait to hear if rumour becomes fact but, in the meantime, the publicity generated around the fashion industry's protracted game of musical chairs does none of the brands in question any harm.

Nor is it a coincidence that stories break at this time of year. Instead, such sustained media interest only serves to ensure a label's position in the limelight even before any movement has been made official or indeed any clothes have been shown.


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