By  on March 29, 2007

PARIS — Dior Homme is bidding adieu to Hedi Slimane and is close to replacing him with Kris Van Assche, WWD has learned.

Sources said the French fashion house is zeroing in on a contract with the 30-year-old Belgian designer, who cut his teeth at Slimane's side before launching his signature brand in 2005. An announcement is expected in the next few days.

It is understood Dior wants to plot a new path for its men's wear and move on from Slimane, yet with a designer familiar with Dior Homme's codes and possessing a strong knack for tailoring. Neither Dior officials nor Slimane could be reached for comment Wednesday.

The ouster of Slimane — one of luxury titan Bernard Arnault's biggest fashion talents — is bound to reverberate throughout the industry, signaling stardom is no guarantee of job security and that brand owners are not prisoners of their creative talent. The split with Slimane mirrors those of Jil Sander and Helmut Lang at their respective houses, which at the time were owned by Prada Group.

As reported in WWD Wednesday, Dior became "fed up" with Slimane's demands during protracted negotiations to renew his contract, which expired last July. Sources said control rights were the most contentious issue, with Slimane, an exacting sort, determined to nail down even niggling details about brand strategy and business plans. Since his arrival at Dior Homme, he assembled a press department independent of the main fashion house and constructed a minimalist atelier — complete with a monolithic ceiling speaker — down the road from Dior headquarters on Rue François 1er.

The failure to renew Slimane's contract also scuttles plans for Dior to back a Hedi Slimane fashion house, long a dream of the designer, who was keen to branch out into women's wear and other lifestyle categories such as home furnishings.

Sources said Dior was willing to back a signature house, but there were wide differences over the estimated value of the Hedi Slimane brand and control rights. Slimane was reluctant to give up ownership of his name, even if LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton owns the companies producing the collections of its other design stars, John Galliano and Marc Jacobs.Sources close to Slimane indicate he is sad to leave Dior and "tried to make things work" with the luxury giant, but ultimately he was unwilling to compromise his work, especially concerning a label under his own name.

Slimane's next move is bound to be the subject of intense speculation, but sources suggested his goal is to find a financial backer to launch his signature brand, putting him in a similar position to Tom Ford, who was shown the door after a blockbuster reign as Gucci Group's creative director after he and Gucci Group chief executive Domenico De Sole failed to reach new contracts with parent PPR.

Ford's signature men's wear will be unveiled next month, and he already has introduced fragrances with Estée Lauder and eyewear with Italy's Marcolin Group.

WWD first reported a stalemate in contract negotiations with Slimane last June, and noted at that time that Van Assche was already among designers Dior contacted as a possible successor. According to sources, talks with Van Assche reached an advanced state on the eve of the Dior Homme show that summer, but they suddenly halted. It is understood Dior considered other possible candidates in the interim, but opted to resume exclusive talks with Van Assche.

A graduate of Antwerp's famed fashion academy, Van Assche worked with Slimane for seven years, both at Yves Saint Laurent and Dior Homme. Known for his sartorial style — dashed with lighthearted and romantic touches ­— he first hit the fashion radar in 2005 with the launch of his signature brand, which he shows in Paris and sells to retailers such as Harvey Nichols, Colette, Holt Renfrew, Bon Marché and Printemps.

Van Assche recently branched out into women's wear, featuring such whimsical elements as an embroidered duck motif sketched by his six-year-old niece and embroidered around the waist of a white blouse. His concept is to use men's materials for women's clothing, and he has shown his-and-hers styles side-by-side on his Paris runway for two seasons.

It could not be learned if Van Assche will continue to produce his signature brand or devote his energies exclusively to Dior Homme.

Slimane's departure is bound to shock many in the industry, given the impact he's had on men's fashion, making skinny suits and tight, low-riding jeans the epitome of cool for today's young generations. He also transformed Dior Homme into the must-see show of Men's Fashion Week in Paris, drawing a Who's Who of the art, music and fashion worlds.Designer Karl Lagerfeld famously shed more than 90 pounds simply to be able to shimmy into Slimane's spare, graphic threads, and rock stars from Mick Jagger to Pete Doherty have belted out tunes decked out in Dior Homme.

Slimane was also given purview over men's fragrances at Dior, tapping David Lynch to direct commercials for Fahrenheit and conceiving a prestige skin care line called Dermo System as sleek and exacting as his fashions, albeit with a more classic edge.

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 YSL, earning standing ovations for collections that were seductively androgynous and crackling with modern energy. He was a pioneer in inviting contemporary artists like Ugo Rondinone to put works in YSL stores, putting his fashions in a broader cultural context.

But when Gucci Group acquired YSL in 1999, Slimane balked at a hierarchy that had him reporting to 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.

From his first explosive show in January 2001, attended by the likes of Yves Saint Laurent, Catherine Deneuve and Cate Blanchett, Slimane imbued Dior Homme with buzz and a strong youth appeal. Detractors scoffed at his young and often painfully thin models and stick-to-the-ribs styles requiring a svelte figure and a bold attitude.

Still, his impact on fashion has been broad and many retailers clamored for a Slimane women's line, since he already enjoyed a cult female following, having dressed the likes of Madonna, Charlotte Rampling, Linda Evangelista and Nicole Kidman. Slimane also recently made a name for himself as a photographer and fine artist, with his sculptures and paintings commanding hefty sums at the Almine Rech gallery in Paris and at key art fairs in Europe.

Men's wear represents about 10 percent of Dior's business globally, but is as high as 20 percent in Japan. The Dior fashion house last year had sales of 731 million euros, or $918.3 million at average exchange rates.

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