End of Galliano affair – but the fighting goes on

From Dior to Hermès, the Paris fashion scene is feeling the pressure of big business

Susannah Frankel
Monday 07 March 2011 01:00

Anyone labouring under the delusion that twice-yearly designer ready-to-wear collections are simply a show-case for the world's most beautiful clothes would do well to scratch the glossy surface and find there is a lot more to this multibillion-pound fashion industry.

Last week's sacking of John Galliano was testimony to fashion's economic and political importance. Christian Dior's chief executive, Sidney Toledano, was quick to assure his audience that it's business as usual. But parent company, LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy) is also the majority shareholder in John Galliano's signature line – and the future of the smaller label is more uncertain.

Galliano's own collection was unveiled yesterday and it was a less audacious and more melancholic occasion than usual. Only a handful of models made their way around the salon of a town house in Avenue Foch in a comparatively restrained manner.

But if the designer himself was conspicuous by his absence, his presence was very much felt in the clothes. These were quintessential John Galliano: coquettish and curvaceous boucle-wool tailoring trimmed with oversized bows and tufted hems, followed by the waterfall-ruffled chiffon gowns with which Galliano made his name. Whether John Galliano is ever likely to recover from last week's scandal remains to be seen. But this presentation proved that, for all his troubles, this is one of the great designers of our time.

Christophe Lemaire's debut collection for Hermès shown earlier in the day was, on the face of it, serene by comparison. It included loose-fitting coats, tunics and trousers in warm shades of toffee, caramel and racing green leather; voluminous silks in brighter hues of emerald and orange, and the odd nod to aristocratic pursuits: a snow hawk sat blinking on one model's arm; another came out carrying a Hermès bow and arrow.

The well-mannered nature of the event belied the fact that in-fighting and intrigue are rife at Hermès, and LVMH is at the heart of it. Last year, Bernard Arnault, LVMH's founder, announced he had amassed a 17.1 per cent stake in Hermès, taking family descendants – who between them own the majority – by surprise. Not long after, his stake rose to 20.2 per cent.

Although Mr Arnault insists he has no intention of acquiring a controlling stake in Hermès, speculators agree that if the current generation of family members might be reluctant to sell their shares, their heirs may be more amenable. And so, Hermès is fighting back: a holding company has been created, grouping more than 50 per cent of Hermès's capital and thereby granting family members first rights to buy shares from one another.

Last Friday, meanwhile, chief executive Patrick Thomas said: "I will not hide from you that personally, I think delisting would make sense." He added, much to his audience's surprise: "If you want to seduce a beautiful woman, you don't start by raping her from behind."

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