Ever been to a concert and felt pitifully sorry for the warm-up act, drafted in at little or no expense to buy the main attraction time to bring their creative juices to the boil? Apply that to Bill Gaytten's position at Christian Dior and the house's Spring/Summer 2012 collection makes perfect sense. Gaytten's tenure is a stop-gap - naming him as the design director, even on a temporary basis, was foolhardy considering the fact that Gaytten is a studio head rather than head designer. And lord knows there is a world of difference between those two roles.
But Gaytten learns fast. Rather than stabbing blindly to make a 'big statement' with his Dior ready-to-wear debut (and probably swansong), Gaytten heeded the less-than-effusive criticisms of his haute couture misstep, and retreated into the codes of Christian Dior. The Dior brand has just spun-out a suite at New York's St. Regis to much the same effect. Dior-by-numbers anyone?
This was a perfectly respectable collection, easily summarised on a picture-postcard. Incidentally, a postcard is the invite to Gaytten's Galliano debut on Sunday - and coincidentally, there was something of a resort feel to this offering. That is, commercial and saleable, but not especially inspiring or catwalk-worthy. The retreat into Dior of course yanked out a few (too many) variations on the Bar suit, in curvy wool and black leather, cropped neatly but not too shortly just on the knee. Collarless styles recalled the sixties, as did the window-pane check, which also tapped into Monsieur Dior's love of menswear suiting, and the crosshatch-quilting on those D-iconic Lady Dior bags (there were bags and bags of those). A flash of lipstick crimson and rose-beige organza like papier poudre (wonder if Dior is cracking out those colours in the cosmetic line any time soon?) and then the whole show evaporated, like a cloud of Dorissimo left in the very very hot Parisian sun, leaving little trace it ever existed at all.
Some fashion collections are more than the sum of their parts. Some, alas, are less. It seems difficult to judge Gaytten's show on a par with the rest of Paris fashion, and certainly to compare it to the fire and dazzle of Galliano seems akin to letting a green-behind-the-ears flyweight go head-to-head with a disgruntled Mike Tyson. That was the inevitable comparison that made this show into something ritualistic, or even sadistic. Gaytten's wave at the end of the show was a wave goodbye - not to the fashion press, but more to Dior. An announcement is expected in weeks as to his successor. The best of luck to them.