Dior names Raf Simons as new artistic director

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By ELAINE GANLEY, Associated Press

PARIS (AP) — Christian Dior has named Belgian designer Raf Simons as its new artistic director, seven months after its icon, John Galliano, was convicted by a Paris court for drunken anti-Semitic ravings.

A fashion rebel of a different sort, Simons — who began his career as a furniture designer and has had his own successful menswear label — will present his first show for the renowned Dior fashion house in July, according to Monday's announcement.

Galliano was dismissed by Dior in March 2011, days before its fall-winter runway show, after a video went viral on the Internet showing the bad-boy designer inebriated and insulting a fellow client at a Paris cafe. He was heard slurring "I love Hitler," among other incendiary remarks.

The 44-year-old Simons, who designed for the minimalist Jil Sander label from 2005 until just recently, was a top name among rumored candidates for the Dior job.

A statement by Dior said Simons will serve as artistic director for haute couture, ready-to-wear and women's accessories. It praised him as "one of the greatest current talents" and said he will "inspire and propel into the 21st century" the style carried on by the prestigious house since its creation in 1946.

"I am thrilled to join this great house ...," the statement quoted Simons as saying. "The house of Dior is the symbol of absolute elegance."

How Simons will translate his own vision for Dior will doubtless be the top question at the Paris show in July. His palette has produced both minimalist and maxed-out colors on precision designs.

"I'm sure Raf's New Look for Dior will be incredible and we can't wait to see what he creates," said Harper's Bazaar editor-in-chief Glenda Bailey in an e-mail.

Simons has had a quirky career. After moving from furniture to menswear in 1995, he then took a sabbatical and ended up as a professor of the fashion department at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, from 2000 until 2005. His menswear label mixed a rebellious touch with precision.

"The most important message Raf wants to communicate is: pride in individuality," his official CV says.

Simons was clearly preparing for his Dior moment with his February shows in Paris then Milan — his last for Jil Sander. At his Milan finale, he shed tears and took a second curtain call after ovations and a spontaneous invasion of the runway.

Fashionistas will clearly be glad to have him back, this time at a house with deep roots in a venerable fashion institution. After its founding in 1946, Dior presented its first collection a year later. Today, Dior is one of the world's top fashion houses, producing finely crafted couture to widely available cosmetics.

The interim design leadership at Dior came from Bill Gaytten and was safe and serviceable, but likely not enough to sustain Dior's buzz and prestige.

With the announcement, Dior can close for good the painful chapter of the Galliano affair.

Galliano was convicted in September of "public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity" but not given a prison term or forced to pay a fine, imposed but suspended.

At the trial, the once prideful designer humbly explained he had a "triple addiction" — to alcohol, barbiturates and sleeping pills — and said he recalled nothing. He said he was sorry for "the sadness that this whole affair has caused."

In testimony before the court in proceedings in June, Galliano said he didn't recall anything.

Where Galliano had showmanship and flair — sometimes outrageous — Simons tends to be more restrained. He took the helm at Jil Sander when the faltering label was looking for a designer who could push the line further without abandoning the minimalist trademark of the founder, who had since left the company.

Simons began with a black and white womenswear collection. His evolution there culminated several seasons ago in a burst of color that dazzled the fashion world.

The winter 2013 show, presented on the fourth day of Milan Fashion Week on Feb. 25, was his last as creative director for the label. It was feminine and soft.

Simons has much support in the industry. His designs have increasingly becoming a bellwether for trends. Lately, his clothes gained support in fashion magazines, and the Jil Sander show became a must-have ticket during the Milan Fashion Week.

Still, he doesn't have the celebrity of a Galliano, and Jil Sander didn't have as broad an audience to please as does Dior. It will be the trick for Simons to balance exciting, fashion-forward design with global appeal that will find its place on red carpets and in department stores.

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Fashion writer Samantha Critchell in New York contributed to this report.

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