PARIS (Reuters Life!) - The fashion elite turned out in support of couture house Christian Dior for its catwalk show in Paris on Friday three days after it fired star designer John Galliano over anti-Semitic comments.
Influential U.S. Vogue Editor Anna Wintour, department store buyers, supermodels, celebrities, wealthy aristocrats and the children of the man who founded the LVMH luxury group which owns the Dior label gave the collection’s team -- sans Galliano -- a standing ovation.
Dior’s team of assistants and seamstresses in white vests received applause from an audience, who also listened solemnly to Dior Chief Executive Sidney Toledano speak about the storm of controversy which engulfed the atelier just a week before Friday’s show.
“It has been deeply painful to see the Dior name associated with the disgraceful statements attributed to its designer, however brilliant he may be,” Toledano told the group assembled under a vast marquee in the garden of the Rodin Museum.
“Such statements are intolerable because of our collective duty to never forget the Holocaust and its victims.”
Dior -- the jewel in the crown of the world’s biggest luxury group, LVMH -- fired its chief designer on Tuesday for slurring anti-Semitic comments in a video in which he also expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler and appeared to be inebriated.
Cancelling the runway presentation would have meant the loss of an entire collection in which the company had invested heavily, as well as the loss of a season’s worth of orders from buyers sent by retail outlets from around the world.
Some fashion insiders said they lauded Dior’s decision to forge ahead with the show.
“It was very appropriate in light of the situation,” Ken Downing, fashion director of the U.S. department store Neiman Marcus, told Reuters after the show.
A few critics and buyers had said this week they would boycott the show, but there was not a single empty seat before the models started strutting down the catwalk to a pounding techno beat mixed with melancholic violin music.
After the show, some customers said they planned to remain faithful to the brand despite the events of the last week.
“It is certainly not going to influence my purchases,” Baroness Arielle de Rothschild, part of the banking family, told Reuters.
Russian supermodel Natalia Vodianova joined other celebrities at the show including Anouchka Delon, the daughter of French actor Alain Delon, who sat close by Antoine and Delphine Arnault, the children of LVMH boss and founder Bernard Arnault, who was not seen at the show.
“I am here to support the group LVMH,” Vodianova told Reuters before the show began.
The collection was a mix of inspirations, part Gavroche from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables novel, part musketeer with high-rise stiletto boots, silk shorts and oversized fur collars.
Many models walked out of the show crying.
“It was so sad,” said Ataui Deng, a 19-year-old model from Sudan based in New York, her eyes full of tears. “Usually Galliano would tap us on the shoulder and tell each one of us ‘rock it’ but today he was not there. It was so strange.”
While Dior was quick to part ways with Galliano after 15 years at the head of its creative operation, it remains unclear who will replace the British designer.
Possible successors at Dior that have been mooted include Riccardo Tisci, designer at Givenchy, Dior’s sister brand within the LVMH group.
It is not clear what will happen to the John Galliano brand, which cannot survive without Dior’s financial backing. Dior owns 92 percent of the brand, whose wares are sold mainly in department stores and multi-brand stores.
Against the odds, Dior also decided to carry on with the Paris show for the John Galliano label, though it has been downgraded to a presentation.
Galliano faces trial over accusations he made racist remarks in public. He has apologized and left Paris.
“He is no longer in Paris and he is being looked after,” a spokesman for his John Galliano label said on Friday.
The designer has left France for a rehabilitation program, according to the International Herald Tribune newspaper and some fans remain supportive.
“I know John is a good person,” Vodianova said. “I am Russian and therefore I know what alcohol does to people, people can say things they don’t mean or don’t remember. I hope he is getting help and he is going to be all right.”
Editing by Paul Casciato