Will this be Dior's new look?

She denies it of course. But Vivienne Westwood, the British former queen of punk, is tipped to take over French institution
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The Independent Online
She was the Queen of Punk and reigns over British design as its most anarchic, irreverent champion. And now Vivienne Westwood is tipped to take over the king of French fashion houses, Christian Dior.

The rumours began that Westwood, who first made her mark on fashion with the punk store Sex and Seditionaries, would take over Dior when its present head Gianfranco Ferre announced his departure in July.

But yesterday the fashion world whispers suggested that Dior has already appointed Westwood and is waiting to make an official announcement at the October shows in Paris, when Ferre steps down.

Westwood denied the rumour. "We would like to declare untrue the rumours on Mrs Westwood's appointment at the House of Christian Dior," a statement from her British office said. "Mrs Westwood is very honoured by the rumour, but at the moment her main concern is to organise the ready-to-wear spring/summer 1997 show in Paris."

Dior, estimated to turn over more than pounds 1bn a year, celebrates its 50th anniversary in 1997. Whether Westwood is its next couturier and whether she is given the job is almost irrelevant. The very fact that she is under consideration is a coup, not only for her but for the British fashion industry as a whole.

Design houses from New York to Milan come to London in search of talent fresh from our fashion colleges. Now, it seems, the brain-drain is reaching up into the highest echelons of the industry.

Since John Galliano took over at the French couture house Givenchy, British designers have looked set to conquer the fashion world, if not commercially, at least creatively. British talent has already cleaned up in just about every other aspect of the fashion industry: the editors of the two leading American fashion magazines, Anna Wintour and Liz Tilberis are both British, as are the leading fashion photographers Albert Watson, Craig McDean, Glen Luchford and David Sims.

British models are the most sought-after. Carolyn Park, one of the young British models who featured in the summer's Gucci campaign, is also making waves with the Italian label MaxMara, Hugo Boss, and Versace's diffusion line, Versus. One of the latest to hit the big time commercially is the Scottish aristocrat, Honor Fraser, currently to be seen in a whole host of international advertising campaigns that include Ungaro, Russell & Bromley, Rena Lange, and Isaac Mizrahi.

Christian Dior is owned by LVMH (Louis Vuitton - Moet Hennessy) the same company that owns Givenchy, and Louis Vuitton. John Galliano's eccentricity and refusal to compromise has created more publicity for Givenchy than the house has seen since Audrey Hepburn wore its clothes in Funny Face. And publicity is what it is all about; perfume sales are the key to haute couture, while jeans lines, accessories, sunglasses and hosiery licences are increasingly the key to ready to wear. LVMH is in the market for a designer who will not so much make beautiful, wearable clothes, as a designer who will generate as much publicity as possible.

Now, the rumour and speculation that accompanied the decision over who would take the reins at Givenchy are being repeated. Westwood would be a logical contender to design Dior. She, like Galliano, has a fascination and comprehensive knowledge of the history of fashion which is important if a designer is to respect the history and tradition of Dior, the house which was founded in 1947 with the controversial New Look. She was in Paris during the haute couture season, attending the annual cocktail party thrown by the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. Westwood also attended Yves Saint Laurent's show, enthusing afterwards about the expertise that a couturier like Saint Laurent has at his fingertips. "He could do anything he wanted," she said, imagining perhaps, a more flamboyant, over-the-top collection.

In an interview with Le Figaro in July, Dior's chairman, Bernard Arnault, said: "I want modern creativity in the spirit of Christian Dior himself." And it seems as though he is looking in the right direction. Other designers rumoured to have been approached include the hip downtown New York American, Marc Jacobs, a favourite of the Croydon supermodel Kate Moss; Martin Margiela, the original avant-garde deconstructivist designer who has managed to remain a cult underground figure while building up a thriving business on sale in the world's leading department stores; Jean-Paul Gaultier, the whacky designer and TV presenter might not seem such an outlandish suggestion, considering his early days under the tutelage of Pierre Cardin; Christian Lacroix, who heads up Paris's youngest couture house bearing his own name, has also been talked about.

Two other young British designers who would certainly cause a stir were they to be appointed are Alexander McQueen and Hussein Chalayan. McQueen however, would not take the job. "There is only one Paris fashion job for me," he said. "Yves Saint Laurent." Now that would be interesting.

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