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July 31, 2014
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Designer Bill Gaytten acknowledges the applause of the audience after the Christian Dior RTW S/S 2012 show during Paris Fashion Week at Musee Rodin on September 30, 2011 in Paris. Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images.

Paris Fashion Week (PFW) is the keystone in the bridge that is the fashion week season. In contrast to its more contemporary counterparts in New York, London and Milan, the city of love lives up to its name and celebrates the romance in fashion. PFW is a show-stopping finale to fashion week season that ensures to knock all before it off their well-heeled feet.

Christian Dior A/W 2012.
Source: style.com.

With fashion giants such as Chanel, Céline and Jean Paul Gaultier walking its runways, it can be difficult to choose a favourite show at PFW. Yet, Christian Dior's dramatic shows always left the world talking year after year, largely thanks to its eccentric and inspiring creative director, John Galliano.

At Dior's A/W 2011 presentation, however, people were talking about the house for a completely different reason. Galliano was gone. Rumours whistled through the fashion camp like Chinese whispers until, days before the start of PFW, Dior announced that Galliano was suspended from the house following his arrest in a Paris bar over a hugely publicised anti-Semitic rant.

On March 1, 2011, Dior's CEO Sidney Toledano announced the dismissal of its creative director. Galliano, who held the position for 15 years, received much support from fellow editors, industry specialists and models that had worked with the company. Franca Sozzani, editor of Vogue Italia, wrote on its website: "I'm … disgusted by these people who saw what state John was in and took advantage of the situation by trading on his name and notoriety..."

After Galliano's sudden departure, designs became a lot less daring at Dior. Acting director Bill Gaytten tried to live up to the reputation for splendour that Galliano moulded but didn't quite hit the mark in his designs for S/S 2012. The collection was beautiful and fresh, there is no doubt about that. But his designs were too normal, too safe. There was none of the drama that used to pulse through a Dior show. An audience that had come to expect a carnival of fashion instead found a show that was simplistic beyond belief. In the same way, his haute couture collection was beautiful to watch, but the simplicity overruled the drama, far from previous years with Galliano himself.

Could this be sign of a new direction, maybe a new Dior, under Gaytten himself?

But, in a surprising turn of events, Gaytten shined at his A/W 2012 show in Paris on March 1. Exactly one year after Galliano was sacked, Gaytten appears to have fresh confidence in his place at Dior - a self-assurance that glimmered through his collection. Ballet influences left a gentle touch on wrap-around knits and ribbon tie shoes. Evening wear pieces echoed the feminine designs and silhouettes that Christian Dior himself created over 60 years ago. Gaytten mixed Galliano's masculine tailoring with a feminity that has been absent from Dior in recent seasons. Could this be sign of a new direction, maybe a new Dior, under Gaytten himself?

Elle UK described Dior's A/W 2012 show as a "label which, far from struggle to focus...has emerged with a crystal clear notion of what the Dior woman looks like in 2012." This new side of Dior is a giant leap in the right direction as far as sales and critics are concerned. There is less talk about the men behind the scenes, and more about the A/W 2012 collection itself. The design team brought attention back to what really matters: the catwalk. Gaytten's second ready-to-wear collection was a more wearable one than we've seen in several seasons, but maybe that fresh attitude is a good thing. British Vogue was also quick to look at his success: "... there was no sign or signal that Gaytten was going anywhere, merely refining and defining his take on the legendary brand."

Christian Dior A/W 2012. 
Source: style.com.

Galliano's name was at PFW this season through his eponymous label, run under the LVMH group. Although the label is under the creative direction of Gaytten, this show had all the vaudeville and pantomime that was missing from the Dior show earlier in the week, creating some kind of insane but entrancing hybrid of Moulin Rouge, Robin Hood and Pirates of the Caribbean. The detailed stitching and dramatic colours were a feast for the eyes. The show reflected what Galliano had showcased at Dior and his influence guided Gaytten to design pieces that his former colleague would have wanted under his name.

When Christian Dior founded his design house in 1946, he wanted to create something different and beautiful, something artistic. He said of his first collection: "I have designed flower women," or for the first time in fashion, a curvy silhouette. John Galliano did just that: he created beauty, art, lust and romance in the world of fashion and became infamous for it, exactly the way Dior himself did.

Gaytten is not Galliano, but why should he be? The acting creative director has taken risks over the last year - making clothes that haven't fit with the usual styles of Dior, but that have paid off and brought Dior well and truly into 2012. He has taken a bit of Galliano, a pinch of Dior and a measure of his own talents to create a collection that the Dior brand can be proud of. His designs channel the spirit that made the house famous, a style that the modern woman can wear and feel confident in. 

Dior still lacks a permanent creative director and at the end of PFW, we remain none the wiser in regards to any contenders. But the collection that he sent down the runway in Paris last week leaves us feeling comfortable in the capable hands of Gaytten, a man we never expected to surprise us. We should begin to ask ourselves: will the house of Christian Dior be the house that we all love to watch, the house that Galliano transformed during his 15-year tenure? Or will it be another, one that we don't recognise, under the same name but branching out in a new modern direction?

Only time will tell.

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