Fashionista contributor Long Nguyen is the co-founder/style director of Flaunt.
PARIS--When the lights dimmed on this bright sunny Friday afternoon inside a black tent erected on the courtyard of the Musée Rodin, there wasn’t the customary loud music and a model already posed at the end of the runway ready for action. Instead, Sidney Toledano, the CEO of Christian Dior, came on the stage to give a speech in French.
With elegant but somber words that somehow felt more emotional in French than a translation would allow, Mr. Toledano summarized the “painful” events of the past few days that shook the fashion world in a rapid and unforeseen manner. As readers of this site are undoubtedly aware, Dior fired its designer John Galliano for anti-semetic remarks at a bar against a French couple and in an undated camera phone recording that surfaced last Monday in a London tabloid, sold for personal profit by an anonymous individual to the Sun tabloid.
“The heart of the house of Dior, which beats remain unseen, is made up of its team and studios, of its seamtresses and craftsmen, who work hard day after day, never counting the hours, and carrying on the values and vision of Monsieur Dior. Ce que vous allez voir maintenant, le résultat de leur immense travail. What you are seeing now, the result of their immense work.”
With these words, Mr. Toledano yielded the stage--a backdrop reproduction of the grey wall offices at the Avenue Montaigne headquarters--and Karlie Kloss emerged from behind the faux salon doors wearing a large brown cape draping over her cropped leather jacket, purple sweater, and midnight blue velvet pants neatly tucked into thigh high leather boots. Ms. Kloss led the show with her cape flowing in the air. This time her moves were tempered by the soft and un-melodramatic music, her make-up nude rather than painted like some figurines.
With 63 looks, the clothes certainly took center stage: there was Coco Rocha in a gray short sleeve double breasted flare jacket and a red print dress; Vlada Roslyakova in red tiered layers of ruffles; Lee Hye Jung in a khaki cotton layered dress; Iris Egbers in a sensible green plaid jacket over a short printed dress. Surely the men and women from the studios and ateliers who created these garments and who took a bow on stage at the end of the show should be proud of their accomplishments and their meticulous work in making these outfits.
Yet despite the dazzling choices of clothes, designer fashion requires an imaginative narrative without which even the most elaborately constructed garments are just mere clothes that in a few months’ time we will forget. Over his 14 years at Dior, Mr. Galliano provides us with that precise plot season after season, like a bedtime story taking us away from the utter banality and mundane business of fashion.
I still remember going to the Grand Hotel in January 1997 for Mr. Galliano’s debut showing of Dior Couture, where he transformed the entire hotel lobby into a massive Dior salon with guests seated on those round chairs with the curvy back. The girls came out in full skirted gowns, tight fitting gray New Look suits and Native American beading on black silk gowns and Massai skirts, some posturing right next to us.
Mixing cultures, histories, and traditions has always been a central thread tying together the house’s couture collections over these years. There was the infamous hobo homeless ripped clothes (with some dresses embroidered with cigarette burn marks) for Spring 2000; the Egyptians Pharoahs collection for Spring 2004 complete with a golden dog headdress; the pirates collections for Spring 2005; the Freudian fetish House of Harlot collection for Fall 2003 in a red painted hall. There was the 60th year fete at Versailles in July 2007, where guests reminisced Dior’s glorious past.
How could anyone have forgotten when the fake snow fell on us as Shalom Harlow led the finale of girls wearing fuchsia, yellow and blue kimonos, obis, and origami-wrapped New Look suits and dresses. They pranced around the décor, including giant gray Dior chairs evoking a fictive encounter of Pinkerton with Cio-Cio San and Madame Butterfly, on a cold January day on the outskirts of Paris at the Allée de Longchamp horse racetrack. Moments like that in fashion are exceptionally rare.
Upon learning of the news from Dior just a few hours after landing in Paris on Tuesday afternoon, I have to admit that I pulled a John Boehner--you know, our Majority Leader in the House of Representatives--who is prone to, well, crying. In this age of fast fashion, we so easily forget that at the center of many of these enormous corporate conglomerates is a human being, often a fragile human being behind the thick armor of modern fame and money. And every human being has flaws.
And as the week unfolds, I think it is safe to say we are reaching a major turning point, the end of an entire chapter in the history of contemporary fashion. I am certain that fashion will never be on this creative level again or that corporate interests will sustain such visionary. No matter what will happen, I think we have reached a plateau. I would say it’s fashion’s equivalent of peak oil.
But fashion is like a roll of dice and predictions are merely just that. We eagerly await the next chapter of Dior’s history, one where hopefully a degree of dreams and imagination live again.
**Photos by Imaxtree.