The fashion world shed a tear for an icon fallen from grace as a somber Dior show went on Friday without star designer John Galliano _ sacked by the luxury group earlier this week amid allegations he hurled anti-Semitic insults during a barroom altercation.
It was the most solemn moment for the industry since last year's suicide of another gifted British designer, Alexander McQueen.
Dior was quick to condemn Galliano, suspending him soon after the allegations emerged and firing him after a brief video in which the visibly inebriated designer slurs "I love Hitler" went viral on the internet.
The brand's newest spokesmodel, Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman, said she was "disgusted" by the comments and wanted nothing more to do with Galliano.
The fashion world, though, has been more forgiving. Many insiders say his drunken rant didn't all reflect the man, whose work drew its inspiration from far-flung cultures. So it was with a heavy heart that fashionistas took in Dior's fall-winter 2011-12 ready-to-wear collection, Galliano's last after 15 years with the label.
Eyes misted over. Tears were shed.
Russian supermodel Natalia Vodianova, one of just a handful of A-listers at the show, 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.
Though the dramatic saga of Galliano's fall has cast a pall over Paris fashion week, day four of the nine-day-long marathon included strong displays from Lanvin and Maison Martin Margiela and marked the final collection for another departing designer, Dai Fujiwara of inventive Japanese label Issey Miyake.
After the emotive day was over, the in-crowd flocked to parties hosted by Italian shoemakers Sergio Rossi and Hogan to drown their sorrows in free Champagne. Women in bustier dresses and men in sharp suits elbowed their way into Rossi's new Paris boutique, on the chic rue du Faubourg Saint Honore, and then descended en masse on a nearby hotel where Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld unveiled his latest collaboration with Hogan.
The collections reach their halfway mark on Saturday with displays by Jean Paul Gaultier, France's queen of knitwear, Sonia Rykiel and Haider Ackermann, who rumor has it is a top contender for Galliano's old job.
Absent in the flesh, Galliano's spirit filled the darkened tent where about 1,000 fashion insiders, most of them clad in black, paid the disgraced designer their last respects.
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 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 on the battlefield _ to take his victory strut. Instead, Dior's studio _ the dozens of seamstresses, tailors and embroiders who brought Galliano's designs to life _ emerged for the final bow. The audience gave them a standing ovation, and the craftspeople, all clad in white lab coats, clapped back.
"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."
Dior CEO Sidney Toledano opened the 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.
Celebrities normally flock to the Dior show, but supermodel 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.
Alber Elbaz has done it again. The preternaturally talented Lanvin designer delivered a ravishing fall-winter collection that somehow managed to exceed the enormous expectations on him.
Elbaz, who over the past several years has turned the musty old house into fashion gold, injected his trademark flouncy romantic look with a minimalist strain and a '70s bohemian spirit that was on-trend with Dior and other Paris catwalks.
"Inspiration was overflowing," gushed British actress Rosamund Pike, who dressed up the front row in a salmon off-the shoulder number.
Models, their faces shrouded by the wide-brim hats that have swept runways here, strutted in black dresses adorned at the neck or sleeves by oversized metal hardware. Perhaps it was all that metal, or perhaps it was because we couldn't see their faces, but there was something menacing about those looks that made you worry these molls might just pull a knife on you.
Then came the minimalist gowns, one-shoulder numbers in washed silk that seemed somehow integral, whole, like they were too hermetic and pure to be scarred as anything as pedestrian as a seam. And then, a rainbow of flouncy cocktail dresses in poppy red, fuchsia and shocking pink. In classic Lanvin style, they sprouted oversized, rounded ruffles and raw-seamed paneling that fluttered down the models' backs.
Nary a pair of pants was to be seen, and outerwear, too, made itself scarce.
But who needs pants when you've got those dresses?
MAISON MARTIN MARGIELA
The models' sluggish gait and general state of dishevelment suggested the theme of the collection was sleepwalking.
Dressed in coats where the seams had been replaced by zippers which were left unzipped, with snap-up panels that hung limply, unsnapped, and belts that dragged, unbuckled, on the ground, the glassy-eyed models looked like they'd slipped out of bed and unconsciously into whatever they managed to fish off the floor. The fact they were wearing stockings over their stilettos seemed to support that theory.
Still, these were some stylish sleepwalkers. The coats were well-cut and looked like they might just be cute if someone had only bothered to zip and snap them up properly. The cropped jackets in pigeon's blood patent leather were to lust after, and the djellabas in sheer silk, worn over pencil skirt suits, were equally lovely.
It was a big improvement over last season's show, when the label beat the theme of "button-down shirts still in their plastic envelopes" to a bloody pulp, sending out a "dress" that vacuum-packed a model between two square pieces of black vinyl.
The intellectual Belgian house is known for being a laboratory for ideas, a petri dish for extreme looks that trickle down into more conventional labels' collections. Friday's collection _ the third since the house's reclusive founder left in December, 2009 _ pushed the envelope less far than usual. But the clothes definitely were all the better for it.
Dai Fujiwara, the creative director of Issey Miyake, likes complicated stuff. He regularly seeks inspiration in fields like astrophysics and fluid dynamics, delving in with extensive research and hands-on experiments.
But Fujiwara's inspiration for Friday's collection _ his last as the label's creative director _ couldn't have been simpler: It was all about origami.
Stage hands clad in black and brandishing staplers unrolled oversized scrolls of paper on the catwalk and, working in teams, folded and stapled them into clothes: a stiff white paper vest, a jacket, a dress, a scarf, and a skirt that looked like an upside-down tulip. They fitted them onto models in black leggings and T-shirts as a child banged out a beginners' version of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" on a grand piano at the end of the runway.
Five other models then appeared, wearing sophisticated cloth-and-thread versions of the origami garments, and the audience burst into spontaneous applause _ a rare sign of enthusiasm in the generally blase fashion crowd.
The collection that followed, dresses and princess coats in graphic zigzags, checks and houndstooth knits and puffer coats folded, origami-style, into innovative shapes, was among Fujiwara's strongest in his five years at the helm of the Tokyo-based label.
The soundtrack _ "Twinkle, Twinkle" over and over again _ got progressively more sophisticated as the show went along, its complexity matching the growing sophistication on the runway.
The house, which has struggled in recent years to match the earlier success of founder Issey Miyake following his retirement, announced Fujiwara was leaving after Friday's show, though he is to help oversee the studio's design of next season's collection. His replacement will be named in April, staffers said.
"I feel the time is right that I pass the baton onto this next generation, and I do so with joy and anticipation," said a letter from Fujiwara in the show's collection notes.
With Friday's fine collection, Fujiwara leaves on a high note.