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PARIS — Bernard Arnault might poach a star designer for Christian Dior after all — and one from his own constellation of luxury brands.
According to sources, the business titan is in talks with Marc Jacobs about becoming the new couturier of the fabled French house. Dior has been without a creative leader since the March ouster of John Galliano in the wake of allegations of racist and anti-Semitic outbursts.
Such a move would unseat Jacobs from Louis Vuitton, the cash-cow brand at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton — and possibly set in motion a reshuffling at the French luxury giant.
It is understood that Phoebe Philo, who has revved up Celine with her ultra-chic, minimalist clothes and must-have handbags, could be first in line to succeed Jacobs at Vuitton.
One source cautioned that a deal with Jacobs is not assured, but that the American designer and Dior management are so far “excited” about the prospect.
Meetings are scheduled to take place in Paris this week between Dior officials and legal representatives for Jacobs, who is currently in New York preparing for his signature fashion show there.
Dior declined to comment. Jacobs could not immediately be reached for comment.
Besides Arnault, chairman at LVMH and Dior, key decision makers in the designer search are Sidney Toledano, Dior’s chief executive officer, and Delphine Arnault, deputy managing director at Dior.
Should the American designer get the job, it would surely give a jolt of excitement to Dior and Paris Fashion Week, given that Jacobs is a darling of editors and has proven his ability to mount electrifying shows and create hyper-luxurious clothes and accessories.
Jacobs, who signed on as Vuitton’s artistic director in 1997, has been in the throes of renewing his employment contract at the leather goods powerhouse. Those discussions have now been put on the back burner, pending the outcome of the Dior discussions.
Jacobs and longtime business partner Robert Duffy also have long-term agreements with LVMH, which owns Marc Jacobs International. Duffy would be part of the package should Jacobs move to Dior, and is deemed pivotal to any deal.
As for eventual succession at Vuitton, LVMH has already held preliminary discussions with Philo, and the London-based talent is described as “intrigued” by the project, according to one source.
Should the scenario play out, Philo would likely design Vuitton in addition to her duties at Celine, suggesting Vuitton might take a more toned-down approach in its post-Jacobs period.
The American designer has brought a whirlwind of attention to Vuitton by staging theatrical and eclectic fashion shows, collaborating on leather goods with high-profile artists like Stephen Sprouse, Takashi Murakami and Richard Prince, and hiring celebrities including Jennifer Lopez, Madonna and Uma Thurman to pose in Vuitton fashion campaigns.
According to sources, when Arnault began installing hot designers at his stable of dusty heritage brands in the Nineties, his initial discussions with Jacobs centered on Dior as a potential successor to then-designer Gianfranco Ferré.
However, Dior’s president at the time, Francois Baufume, evidently vetoed that idea, clearing the way for Galliano to move over from Givenchy to Dior, and for Jacobs to take on the challenge of inventing a ready-to-wear image for Vuitton, a famous maker of trunks and leather goods founded in 1854.
Arnault has often waxed poetic about the importance of matching a designer’s talent with a brand’s essence.
“Had I hired Marc Jacobs for Dior and John Galliano for Louis Vuitton, it would not have worked as well for both brands, even though both designers are geniuses of their own,” he told WWD in 2003.
To be sure, Jacobs is today surrounded by a glittering circle of celebrities and artists, a leap from the smaller cadre of downtown New York characters with whom he was associated earlier in his career.
The designer, who received the CFDA’s Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award in June, talked about the growing confidence in his work that has come with age and experience.
“I guess there’s a little less naïvety in it. Going through the learning process and working here and in Paris, I personally think we’ve built a strength in terms of editing,” he told WWD at the time. “Also, through becoming healthier and more confident [as a business], there’s a sense of security and less fear.…I don’t feel like we’re sticking our necks out when we’re doing a show like before. We’re all in this because we love fashion and part of that love for fashion is being unapologetic.”
Jacobs is also an intriguing media character. His gym-toned and tattoo-paved body, stints in rehab and eventful love life has all been fodder for the tabloids in recent years.
Throughout his fashion career, he has proven adept at putting an inimitable and playful spin on the iconic style of other designers, having referenced Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Rei Kawakubo and Andre Courreges in collections for Vuitton and his own fashion house over the years. His champions at LVMH are confident he could update and refresh Dior, which has strong codes and is not in need of drastic reinvention.
He also has the star power to eclipse Dior’s recent turmoil, including a couture collection last July that was drubbed in the press. It was designed by Dior’s studio headed by Bill Gaytten, a longtime Galliano deputy prized for his pattern-making skills.
It is widely believed that the Gaytten-headed studio is designing the spring 2012 Dior collection to be presented here next month.
The ouster of Galliano — and the search for a new couturier at Dior — has gripped the industry.
The creative architect of Dior’s impressive growth trajectory and one of the most acclaimed fashion talents of his generation, Galliano stood trial in June at the High Court here.
He blamed work-related stress and multiple addictions for a series of altercations at a Paris cafe, and told the court that he remembered nothing about the incidents.
Public prosecutor Anne de Fontette called for a fine of no less than 10,000 euros, or $14,300 at current exchange. The court will deliver its ruling on Sept. 8.
Dior executives have said they will take all the time they need to find a new designer, and consider all options.
It is understood they have approached a wide swath of potential candidates to succeed Galliano, including Lanvin’s Alber Elbaz, Balenciaga’s Nicolas Ghesquière, Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton, Haider Ackermann and Hedi Slimane.
According to sources, Elbaz and Ghesquière, both of whom have equity stakes in their fashion houses and strong personal commitments to their brands, have withdrawn themselves from the running. Burton, meanwhile, is said to have rebuffed overtures. Talks with Ackermann and Slimane did not end in an agreement.
Riccardo Tisci, the couturier at Givenchy, is also considered a dark-horse candidate. He has earned a cult following for his darkly romantic, Goth-inflected approach to fashion, and has been championed by Delphine Arnault.