PARIS — The fashion engine known as Christian Dior just keeps puffing along. Year in, year out, the company’s licensees and other operations (even excluding perfumes) just keep turning in the profits — $22 million in 1993 on worldwide sales of $156 million dollars. And when Gianfranco Ferré presents a good couture collection, it’s like an unexpected bonus. This season Dior will have to do without it.
While everyone else in haute couture has swung to the right, Gianfranco is the only couturier who can put the entire conservative party in his front row. On either side of Dior president Bernard Arnault sat Marie-Josephe Balladur and Bernadette Chirac, whose respective husbands, Edouard and Jacques, are locked in a bitter battle for the presidency. In American terms, it would be like having Hillary Clinton and Barbara Bush at the same fashion show. Everybody’s eyes were on the would-be queens of the Right. While Mrs. Chirac was wearing traditional political-wife-wear, Mrs. Balladur was sporting Armani. Yes, Armani. It seems the odds-on favorite to be France’s next first lady is a big Armani fan.
And who says the French are fashion chauvinists? The fact that Ferré is at Dior shows that there is a lot of consciousness-raising going on. The Arnault-Ferré marriage hasn’t been an unqualified success, but both sides say they are committed to the union, and Arnault makes it clear that Ferré is the favorite designer in his stable.
This season, Ferré has taken all his old classics — the sharp suit, the bombed-out evening dress, pinstriped pantsuits — and tried to give them a modern edge. Most of the time the effort failed, but every once in a while, the audience caught a glimpse of Ferré’s talent: a long-sleeved polkadot cocktail dress, a lime green luncheon suit, a horizontally striped evening dress with a jeweled bodice. But there wasn’t enough to save the day.