Fashionistas turned the page Friday on one of the most extraordinary chapters in fashion history, paying their respects to John Galliano's phenomenal 15-year tenure at the House of Dior _ which came to an abrupt and shocking end earlier this week when the luxury label fired the British designer amid allegations he hurled anti-Semitic insults.
A somber atmosphere befitting a funeral hung over the label's fall-winter 2011-12 ready-to-wear show, as about 1,000 black-clad fashion editors, journalists and stylists took in Galliano's final collection for the house.
The clothes on the runway were unmistakably his: You could see Galliano's hallmark featherlight touch on the bias-cut gowns in sheer silk and his over-the-top outrageousness in the '70s boho looks in rich jewel tones that opened the show.
But although he was present in spirit, Galliano didn't attend the show. For the first time in 15 years, he didn't emerge at the end of the fashion parade, looking as puffed-up, haughty and triumphant as Napoleon after a hard won victory in battle, to take his victory strut. Instead, Dior's studio _ the dozens of seamstresses, tailors and embroiders who brought Galliano's designs to life _ took to the catwalk for a final bow. The audience gave them a standing ovation, and the craftspeople, all clad in white lab coats, clapped back.
Tears were shed.
"I want to say it's history in the making, but it's more like history in the unmaking," Linda Fargo, Bergdorf Goodman senior vice president, and a fixture at Dior shows, told The AP. "It's a sad day. Everyone's kind of wistful."
The saga of Galliano's undoing was the biggest thing to hit the insular world of fashion since last year's suicide of another preternaturally talented British designer, Alexander McQueen.
News reports last Friday that Galliano had been questioned about allegations he hurled anti-Semitic remarks at a couple at a trendy Paris bar hit the industry like a bomb.
Dior's response was swift and unequivocal. First they suspended him, and after further allegations of similar behavior emerged and a video showing a visibly drunk Galliano praising Hitler went viral on the Internet, the house said it had begun procedures to fire him.
The announcement was made Tuesday, the start of Paris' nine-day-long ready-to-wear marathon, and the unfolding drama riveted the fashion world and cast a pall over the displays.
It was initially unclear whether Dior would even go ahead with its runway show without its designer, who's rumored to be in rehab in Arizona. Dior has declined to comment about Galliano's whereabouts.
The fate of Galliano's signature line, John Galliano, which is owned by Dior parent company LVMH Moet Hennessy, is still a question mark. The label's spokesman, Alexandre Malgouyres, said the runway show scheduled for Sunday had been scrapped, and the latest collection will be shown in a presentation _ a format that which generally offers a lower-key environment than catwalk shows.
Dior CEO Sidney Toledano took to the catwalk before the start of Friday's show, reading in French from a statement that had all the solemnity of a eulogy. In it, he apologized for Galliano's "unacceptable" and "hurtful" remarks.
"These statements have deeply shocked and saddened all at Dior who give body and soul to their work, and it's particularly painful they come from someone so admired for his remarkable creative talent," Toledano said.
He said Galliano's comments went against the very grain of the house, founded by Christian Dior as Europe emerged from the horror of World War II.
Dior's "family had been ruined in the crash of 1929 and his own beloved sister had been deported to (the) Buchenwald" death camp, Toledano said. "In the aftermath of those dark years of the war, he sought to free women, to give them back their sparkle and joyfulness.
"The values that Mr. Dior taught us are unchanged today," said Toledano, stressing that the house will weather the current crisis.
While Dior has utterly severed its links with Galliano, many in the fashion industry have come to his defense, arguing that his drunken rants were not representative of a designer known for looking for inspiration to cultures as far flung as the Massai of Kenya and the ancient Egyptians.
Russian supermodel Natalia Vodianova expressed sympathy for Galliano, saying he is "under influence of a disease."
"This is beyond his power. And I know, because I'm Russian, I've met people under the influence of alcohol doing monstrous things before," Vodianova told Associated Press Television News as she left the show. "It was very sad and I really wish him all the best. And I hope he will get help soon."
Celebrities normally flock to the Dior show, but Vodianova was one of just a handful of A-list guests to turn out Friday. The meager list of Friday's celebrity attendees included mostly little-known French starlets, including actress Melanie Laurent and Vanessa Paradis' sister, Alysson Paradis, and also Chinese actress Fan Bing Bing.
Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman, the new face of "Miss Dior Cherie" perfume, distanced herself from the brand at the beginning of the debacle, saying she was "shocked and disgusted" by the video of Galliano, and adding "as an individual who is proud to be Jewish, I will not be associated with Mr. Galliano in any way."
In an apparent attempt at damage control, Dior upped security at Friday's show and clamped down on journalists. Television reporters and photographers were ushered into the show, penned in by security guards and instructed not to speak to any of the celebrity guests.
Galliano's replacement has not yet been named, but speculation has been heating up around Riccardo Tisci, a rising Italian star whose dark and detail-oriented work for Givenchy has made him a critical darling. Other names churning in the rumor mill include Belgium's Haider Ackermann and former Dior Homme designer Hedi Slimane.
The future for Galliano looks utterly uncertain.
A Paris court has ordered he stand trial on charges of "public insults based on the origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity" against three people.
The trial could take place between April and June and Galliano could face up to six month in prison and euro22,500 ($31,000) in fines, if convicted, the Paris prosecutors' office said in a statement earlier this week.