PARIS--It was an emotional farewell Friday when Gianfranco Ferre officially announced his departure from the house of Christian Dior.
The designer, sitting next to Dior president Francois Baufume, broke into tears when reflecting on his seven years as designer of the house's haute couture and ready-to-wear. "I'm proud of what I have accomplished, but sad about what I could have done with more time," Ferre said in an interview afterwards. Ferre's departure, which both parties took pains to point out was mutual, is effective with the expiration of his contract at the end of 1996. Ferre joined Dior in 1989 and will present his last Dior couture collection today. His final ready-to-wear show will be in October. No successor has been named, although speculation is rampant.
The official reason given for the separation was that the increasing demands of Ferre's business in Milan conflicted with his duties at Dior. And when it's over, it's over. Ferre insisted he would never design another couture collection again. "Sentimentally, it could never be the same," he said. "I will never be able to find the savoir-faire or the capacity of this house somewhere else."
Ferre's long goodbye began Friday at noon, when around 150 Dior employees were summoned for a meeting in the house's haute couture salon. "I asked management to let me give a talk to everyone--from the top manager to everyone in the ateliers," FerrA explained. Baufume read a prepared announcement while, according to Ferre, the employees looked stunned and some began crying. "It was like they were losing an older brother or a father, and they didn't know what happened," the designer said.
In fact, Ferre is convinced that one of his principal accomplishments at the house is the self-assurance he's tried to give to the atelier workers. "I worked hard to give them the confidence that they are working in the best couture house in the world. I wanted to make them feel stronger about their story with Dior." Baufume, when discussing the designer's accomplishments, noted, "Ferre has shown us how to stay in the traditions of the house and be innovative at the same time." Baufume also conceded that the decision had been a difficult one. "Things are not always black and white," he pointed out. "Often things are gray, but, in the end, a decision must be black and white."
Word of Ferre's departure was first reported in WWD last Wednesday, and Baufume said that he and Ferre decided to officially announce the move on Friday, three days before the couture, to end all the speculation. "There have been rumors, indiscretions, and we wanted to make sure this news wasn't like a wet firecracker the day of the show," Baufume said.
Baufume said a successor, whose first collection would be January haute couture, would be named before the end of the year.
Over the weekend, the rumor mill was working overtime. Some thought Christian Lacroix had the inside track, while others dismissed that idea as ridiculous, given what Bernard Arnault has spent to get the Lacroix house started. Jean Paul Gaultier is also considered a serious contender, and his name is receiving the most votes from fashion insiders, even though there is a rumor that Arnault doesn't like him very much.
Yet a third scenario has Arnault moving John Galliano from the house of Givenchy to Dior.
Some have thrown out the name of Gilles Dufour, though Dufour denied he has been contacted. Other dark horses include Marc Jacobs, who has had two meetings with Arnault, but these are said to have been about positions other than Dior; Azzedine Alaia, who has had preliminary contact with the house, and even Alexander McQueen. In fact, a video of the British designer's latest show was floating around the house last Friday. "You could say I have a problem to solve," said Francois Baufume.

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