John Galliano scandal puts spark back into Paris fashion week

Dior designer's indiscretion may have hit the big names, but the minnows see a silver lining

It was the most spectacular and scandalous Paris fashion week in years, and many of the big names – not least John Galliano – were left counting the cost.

However, for many designers less well-known outside the rarefied world of fashion, sensational headlines brought a potentially profitable silver lining. One such was Haider Ackermann, an independent designer who has been described by some fashionistas as "the new Yves Saint Laurent" and is being tipped for the top job at Dior.

"It was a very bizarre fashion week, but a very good one for us," said Katou Brandsma, who represents Ackermann. "Everyone was congratulating us. We had buyers from shops, like Barneys in New York, we've been waiting for 10 years to turn up to our shows. Our designs stood out because everyone else – apart from McQueen – was so boring."

Among the other designers to reap the rewards of the unusually scrutinised fashion week was the Italian-Japanese creative director Nicola Formichetti, who counts Lady Gaga among his fans and was widely congratulated for his debut collection for Thierry Mugler.

Following unconfirmed reports that she had been chosen to design Kate Middleton's wedding dress, British creator Sarah Burton's collection for the label of the late Alexander McQueen also drew plaudits.

Some observers had feared that the aftermath of Galliano's dramatic firing from Dior – for allegedly making antisemitic comments in a drunken rantin a Paris bar – would result in a fashion week dominated by scandal rather than sartorial fireworks. Their worries were not soothed by the hullabaloo greeting Kate Moss's appearance on the catwalk smoking a cigarette. One writer at the event, who declined to be named, said his editor demanded: "Give us a good story about fashion week, but don't bother about the clothes."

For the unluckiest on the French capital's fashion circuit, the controversy did indeed spell disaster: Brussels-born designer Anthony Vaccarello's show was scheduled for the first day of the week – the same day, it transpired, that Galliano was fired. Vaccarello, remarked the New York Times, had a "fine presentation whose fate it was to be forgotten instantly".

Others, however, remain convinced that a good dose of publicity never did any harm. Dana Thomas, a Paris-based fashion writer and author of Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Lustre, said the fall-out from l'affaire Galliano and the subsequent rumours of musical chairs at the big-name fashion houses had produced a "win-win situation".

"The intrigue, bar-room brawls and court proceedings brought a new dynamic and will have created renewed interest in fashion," she said. "The scandals gave the whole business a shot of adrenaline, including for the business side. It wasn't bad news for the French fashion industry at all."

Neither, she added, was good fortune reserved for the designers: writers were also rejoicing at having something new to report on. "It allowed fashion writers to get back to what they used to do, being proper journalists writing about fashion news rather than giving a critique of clothes as though they were talking about movies and art," Thomas said. "It had become so boring writing about clothes, which can be pretty and interesting but not the most intellectual pursuit ever known. I mean, at the end of the day a pencil skirt is just a pencil skirt."

For the success stories of the week, celebrations have been tempered by an awareness of how high the stakes are. Ever since Galliano bowed out, Paris has been awash with speculation over who might replace him. Ackermann, for one, was under enormous pressure, said Brandsma, his representative.

The Colombian-born Frenchman's star rose sharply last year when Chanel's Karl Lagerfeld picked him as his favoured successor. "I have a contract for life, so it all depends on who I would hand it to. At the moment, I'd say Haider Ackermann," he told Numéro magazine.

When his phone started ringing non-stop on 1 March, the designer dealt with it in his own way. "When everything went mad, he locked himself in his showroom and turned off his BlackBerry," said Brandsma. "I believe it's still off now."


Kim Willsher in Paris

The GuardianTramp

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