By  on May 17, 2006

NEW YORK — The fashion world may be obsessed with Russia, India, China and Brazil, but the brass at Christian Dior still sees the U.S. as a land of opportunity. Which is why John Galliano brought his cruise collection to town on Tuesday night, where he held a splashy yet intimate event in the Magic Room in the LVMH Tower on 57th Street, followed by a dinner at the Four Seasons.

The show itself was tame by Galliano standards, sans fantastical theme, brooding Goth makeup and styling that requires major mental dissection to get to any given collection's core reality. Rather, the audience of 150 settled in for a lineup of polished clothes with a breezy attitude appropriate to this increasingly important season. "It's uptown, but not uptight," the designer said.

An apt, if terse, sound bite, as the clothes looked both chic, unself-conscious and decidedly American. They projected an off-handed simplicity via discreetly complicated cuts with tucks, folds and draping adding volume or, in the case of the sexier dresses, fluidity without bulk. Galliano heightened the interest with innovative fabrics, often in plays of matte versus shine. He laminated everything — silk, cotton, jersey, leather — adding ample shine in liquid metallics and abstract skyline embroideries. And he laced a mostly neutral palette with quirky corals, teals and greens, inspired by the work of René Gruau.

"Gruau was a great friend and illustrator of Mr. Dior," Galliano explained. "I really wanted to go back to the roots of Dior. Mr. Dior was one of the first designers to reinterpret what he did in France for the American market."

Today, playing to the American market is key to the house's overall strategy, according to chief executive officer Sidney Toledano. The firm recently tapped Patricia "Pat" Malone, a former president of Gucci America, as U.S. president and chief operating officer of Christian Dior, replacing Marla Sabo, who left the company last month amid speculation of underperforming U.S. sales, a notion that Toledano is quick to squelch. "It's doing very well," he said. "So far, it's strong double-digit growth."

Given the ever-evolving fashion calendar that's pushing earlier and earlier — and retail demand for a constant stream of new merchandise — the cruise/resort season has taken on something approaching mythic significance throughout the industry, especially in the U.S. According to Toledano, the new Dior collection is twice as large as that of two years ago, and will account for 40 percent of total spring sales. The collection shown in July, now called simply "spring" rather than "early spring," is projected at another 30 percent, with the October "runway" accounting for the balance.

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