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Simons steps into Galliano's shoes as new head of Dior

Belgian designer to take up 'poisoned chalice' after his predecessor left the label in disgrace

Raf Simons has been announced as the new artistic director of Christian Dior more than a year after John Galliano departed the French fashion house in disgrace.

Speculation that Belgian-born Simons would take the role, described by some in the industry as a "poisoned chalice", intensified in February, when he left his position as creative director at Jil Sander to make way for the return of that label's founder.

"It is with the utmost respect for its tremendous history, its unparalleled knowledge and craftsmanship that I am joining the magnificent house of Dior," Simons said yesterday.

The top design job at Dior has been vacant since March last year, when the fashion house fired British designer John Galliano after he made anti-Semitic remarks in a Parisian café.

The search for his replacement was headed by Sidney Toledano, Dior's chief executive, and Bernard Arnault, the chairman and chief executive of parent company LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy). The latter was responsible for appointing Mr Galliano in the first place.

Throughout last summer, Marc Jacobs, artistic director both of his own label and of Louis Vuitton, was rumoured to be the front-runner for the job at Dior. It is thought that the American designer's excessive financial and contractual demands led to the cessation of talks. Alber Elbaz of Lanvin is another big name who, it is now widely believed, turned the job down.

Simons, 44, was born in Belgium in 1968 and trained in furniture and industrial design before starting his own menswear label in 1995. He quickly rose to international prominence as a purveyor of rigorously thought-out, impeccably tailored clothing that, given its skinny, androgynous silhouette, overturned the prevailing more traditionally macho view of masculinity entirely.

Since 2005, as well as continuing to produce some of the most innovative and exciting designs under his own name, Simons has also been responsible for mens- and womenswear at Jil Sander, garnering both critical and commercial success. Over the past two years in particular he has introduced a more feminine and colourful aesthetic to a name until that point synonymous with a monochromatic and minimal look.

Simons' history in menswear and the perceived view of him as a no-frills designer might make him appear an unlikely candidate for Dior, superficially at least. He is the house's sixth couturier.

Simons will show his first haute couture collection for the house in July.