By  on March 28, 2007

PARIS — Speculation is building here that Christian Dior will part ways with its men's wear star Hedi Slimane.

The French fashion house and the designer have been in protracted talks to renew Slimane's Dior Homme contract — and to establish a signature fashion house — with majority ownership of the Slimane brand said to be among the most contentious clauses. Slimane is reluctant to give up control of his name and has set a high price tag on the value of his trademark, sources said.

Christian Dior is said to be keen to move on, "fed up" with Slimane's demands, which have made talks drag on for almost a year and dented morale among the rank and file, according to one source.

It could not immediately be learned if a succession plan at Dior Homme is in place should Slimane be shown the door. Last year, Dior Homme was on the verge of signing Belgian designer Kris Van Assche, but talks abruptly ended, and exclusive negotiations resumed with Slimane.

WWD first reported a stalemate in contract negotiations on June 19, just weeks before the contract was to expire.

Slimane, 38, was traveling in America on Tuesday and could not be reached for comment, nor could Sidney Toledano, chief executive of Christian Dior.

A split with Slimane would mark the end of a successful six-year collaboration that saw Dior Homme become one of the most influential men's labels, making skinny tailoring, low-slung jeans and updated, rock 'n' roll style the benchmark of cool. Slimane also applied his rigorous, modernist approach to fragrances, launching the hit scent Dior Homme and concocting the brand's first men's skin care range, Dior Homme Dermo System.

Even Bernard Arnault, chairman of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, is a devotee of Slimane's narrow-lapeled suits and skinny ties, and was among glitterati crammed onto the benches of the Dior Homme show each season, an event attended by the likes of Mick Jagger, Karl Lagerfeld and a who's-who of the art, music and fashion scenes.

Along the way, Slimane established himself as a photographer and artist, represented in Paris by the gallerist Almine Rech. He has published photo books about the music scene in Berlin and London, and held solo exhibitions here and in Zurich, recently branching out into sculpture and painting — albeit ones done by robots programmed to spray the track times of a favorite David Bowie album.Slimane has described Dior Homme as a "project" and he posited the brand in a broader context, inviting contemporary artists to conceive dressing rooms, while dressing popular actors, pop stars and filmmakers. Slimane also gave his clothes a seductive, androgynous appeal and enjoyed a cult female following, having dressed the likes of Madonna, Charlotte Rampling, Linda Evangelista and Charlize Theron.

Launching women's wear has long been an ambition, and Dior had intended to apply the Sli­mane name to a broad range of lifestyle products, not only fashion and accessories, given the designer's design vision and wide-screen interests, sources said.

It could not be learned if Sli­mane has other potential backers lined up, but he is said to be eager to launch his signature brand, while continuing to pursue art-related projects and photography.

Men's wear represents about 10 percent of Dior's business globally, but is as high as 20 percent in Japan.

An art history graduate from the Ecole du Louvre, Slimane burst onto the fashion scene in the late Nineties as the men's wear creative director at Yves Saint Laurent. But when Gucci Group acquired YSL in 1999, Slimane balked at a hierarchy that had him reporting to then-group creative director Tom Ford. In spring 2000, he resigned from YSL to pursue talks about a Gucci-backed signature collection. Prada Group also courted Slimane to take over Jil Sander, but he ultimately accepted an offer from Arnault to join in the rejuvenation of Dior, which was already kicking into high gear with the arrival of Galliano.

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