John Galliano worked at Dior for 15 years before being sacked last March after a racist outburst; right, Raf Simons / AFP/Getty Images

Raf Simons would bring a more purist aesthetic to the grand French fashion house

With January's haute couture season approaching, all eyes in Paris remain fixed on Christian Dior and, specifically, who will replace John Galliano at the grand French fashion house.

Over the past six months, Marc Jacobs – responsible for the creative direction of Louis Vuitton, the jewel in the LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) crown, and the luxury goods conglomerate which also owns Dior – was believed to be the front-runner. It is now thought that talks broke down last month and a new name has come to the fore: that of Raf Simons, the Belgian-born designer whipping up a storm at Jil Sander. Fashion trade paper, Women's Wear Daily, cited 43-year-old Simons as a significant contender yesterday, suggesting that Dior were in ongoing discussions with him, but that his release from his contract with Jil Sander, might prove a stumbling block. Mr Simons has been creative director of Jil Sander since 2005.

In fact, his appointment as head of womenswear there came as something of a surprise. Although Simons' talent as a designer was never in question, he was known for menswear. His signature collection of minimal looks based on street culture were thought to have revolutionised the way men dressed in the early part of the last decade.

Anyone doubting his ability to turn his attention to the more ephemeral craft of women's fashion was quickly proved wrong, however. Simons handwriting was swiftly established as a perfect fit with Jil Sander, a company founded by the eponymous German-born designer in 1968, dedicated to the creation of a modern wardrobe for working women.

Dior appears to be in no great rush to replace Galliano, who was sacked last March after a 15-year tenure, following allegations of a racist and anti-Semitic outburst in a Paris café. In September Galliano was found guilty by the French court on both counts.

Should Simons take over at Dior, he would most likely move away from the high octane vision of fashion fantasy, towards a more pared down and purist aesthetic.

Next in line: Other contenders

Sarah Burton

Succeeded her mentor at Alexander McQueen and was named British designer of the year. Created wedding dress for Catherine Middleton.

Peter Copping

A graduate of the Royal College of Art and Central Saint Martins, he was Marc Jacobs' assistant at Louis Vuitton and is now at the French label Nina Ricci.

Riccardo Tisci

The Italian designer reinvented Givenchy, but his aesthetic is more suited to the smaller French label than to Dior.

Nicolas Ghesquière

Among the most talented designers of his generation, he has the world's most revered archive at his fingertips at Balenciaga.