Raf Simons for Christian Dior Resort 2014.
Raf Simons is leaving Christian Dior.
Sidney Toledano, the chief executive officer of the Paris fashion house, made the announcement today in a statement. The decision by Simons, 47, not to renew his contract is surprising. Since he took over in April 2012, Dior has prospered under his creative control. And Simons seemed to thrive, too: For once in the gossipy world of fashion, there were no rumors of a rift or whispers that Simons would leave.
Quite the contrary, in fact. After Dior’s spring show in Paris on October 2 — Simons’s last, as it turns out — Bernard Arnault, the chairman of LVMH, was backstage praising the designer, although he had already told Arnault and Toledano that he planned to leave. Simons has always had a warm relationship with both men and with Arnault’s daughter, Delphine, who was involved in his hiring. He gave Dior’s rich, romantic legacy — the full skirts, the fitted Bar jacket, the flowers — a modern edge, and without the drama and personal excess of his predecessor John Galliano, who was fired in 2011. Indeed, Simons’s tightrope walk between realness and high fashion not only felt new and directional, it also helped fuel a 60 percent rise in sales since 2011, as Toledano recently told a French newspaper. For the most recent fiscal year, revenues at Christian Dior Couture were up 18 percent, to $1.94 billion. For those reasons and others, Toledano and Arnault tried over the summer and into September to persuade Simons to stay.
So what’s behind his decision? And what will Simons and Dior do next?
The second question won’t have answers for some time. Simons, who was unavailable for comment, will likely focus on his avant-garde men’s label, based in Antwerp. He no doubt has a noncompete agreement with Dior that will prohibit him from working for another brand for some months, possibly a year. Almost certainly he’ll want to do women’s fashion again, perhaps with a different set of challenges than he had at Dior or Jil Sander, where he worked from 2005 to 2011.
Who will succeed him at Dior? Lots of names will surface. One is Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci. His show in New York in September, attended by top LVMH executives, seemed a platform for a major career move. But is his dark, religion-infused aesthetic right for pretty Dior? And can Toledano strike a rapport with Tisci, as he did so easily with Simons? Another possibility is Phoebe Philo of Céline. Her women-friendly clothes cause a buzz, and she’s a master of accessories, but while it would be fascinating to see a woman at Dior, the London-based Philo may resist the idea of spending more time in Paris — and being responsible for many more shows than she now is at Céline.
And that leads us back to the first question: Why? Although Simons seldom voiced regret in interviews about the workload at Dior — six shows a year, two involving the extra finesse of haute couture — he was candid about the pressures it put on the creative process. Galliano’s downfall made people question the amount of stress designers are under, but that wasn’t Simons’s complaint. He certainly talked about stress, but he had enough personal resources to handle it — a stable private life, close friendships that go back 35 years, an overriding sense of duty toward Dior and the people in its ateliers. This last was evident in Dior and I, the documentary that was shot during his first season as artistic director. He was uncomfortable with the old formalities of couture, like being addressed as “monsieur.” He didn’t want to feel isolated, nor make fashion that was out of touch. As Toledano said to the staff in the film, “Let’s call him Raf, as a token of modernity.”