The announcement that Raf Simons is resigning from his position as creative director of Christian Dior might seem like a sequel to Dior and I. That film showed the Belgian designer’s arrival at the historic Parisian house, his struggle, his tears, his million flowers decorating the walls of the couture show - and his ultimate triumph.
But as with any designer for a luxury house, one successful show is never enough. That film has to be rolled over, again and again and again. January is haute couture; March is ready-to-wear; May is cruise; July couture again; September ready-to-wear again; November resort - or is it cruise again?
Add to this the advertising campaigns, personal appearances, store openings, global visits, trunk shows, museum exhibitions, interviews, Instagram - and it’s a wonder that any designer is prepared - or able - to keep up the pace.
The statement that Dior sent out this week was amicable but definite. After three and a half years at the helm, Raf Simons would not renew his contract with Christian Dior “for personal reasons”. And the show earlier this month - a well-received fusion of Victorian underwear and modernist clothing - would be his last.
“It is a decision based entirely and equally on my desire,” said Raf, while thanking Bernard Arnault, Chairman and CEO of LVMH, and Sidney Toledano, Dior’s Chief Executive, who returned the compliment.
I have no information on this separation - especially since I am currently in Sydney, Australia. But I remembered one incident: at last year’s Frieze art fair I sent a text to Raf, whom I have known since his first edgy, schoolboy looks in menswear 20 years ago. I asked him which tent he was in and where we could meet up. The answer, which is still on my phone, was this: “I really miss it - but the schedules are so tight now with another show in December. Just a terrible agenda.”
No time to take one day to go from Paris to London, for inspiration, or for the contemporary art in which Raf is so interested and knowledgable? Has being a fashion designer really come to this?
It has indeed. Like that bird in a gilded cage, creative people at the major fashion houses have everything: a circle of assistants, drivers, first class travel, access to elegant homes and celebrity clients. Everything, but time.
All of us in the industry know of people who are living on the edge, using substances to get through the days that roll inexorably into nights. We all think of Lee McQueen and his tragic ending. Of Marc Jacobs lurching though his punishing schedule until he finally gave up Louis Vuitton for his own label. With Dior again in the news, the fashion world gulps and thinks of John Galliano, his drunken anti-semitic raving and the shocking end to that chapter of a brilliant career.
We watch designers adopting protection mechanisms, like Phoebe Philo of Céline refusing to move from her native England to Paris; or Hedi Slimane fleeing Paris after his Saint Laurent shows to his home and studio in far away Los Angeles.
Designers - by their nature sensitive, emotional and artistic people - are being asked to take on so much. Too much.
The situation is not so easy for buyers and editors either, also trying to keep up with a punishing schedule. The pressure on retailing, aggravated by on-line sales and the speed of the digital world, has exacerbated the situation. People talk of “fast fashion” as though it is applied only to H&M or Uniqlo. In fact it is equally present in stores from New York’s Bergdorf Goodman to Paris’ Bon Marché. New lines are put up constantly, while the rest is marked down.
Then there is social media, as the voracious demands of Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat and Facebook eat into time and designers fight for attention and links to celebrities.
The people who suffer most from high-speed fashion are undoubtedly the creatives, who are the heart and soul of our industry. Without them, there is no fashion - just an echo chamber of ideas; nothing truly new, just repetition dressed up as invention.
Ultimately, the fashion world may come to thank Raf Simons for his brave stand. For walking away from Dior with his head held high. For getting his life back.
But someone has to fill his shoes, to take over at Dior. Balenciaga has only just filled its vacancy for a new creative director with Demna Gvasalia of Vetements, after Alexander Wang moved on. And if LVMH moves Riccardo Tisci to Dior, as has been suggested, his place will then be empty at Givenchy.
We used to call this game of vacant thrones fashion’s “merry go round”. But now the vision is much darker. Who is next to be thrown into the lion’s den?