- Associated Press - Friday, March 4, 2011

PARIS (AP) — Under dim lights, with a somber atmosphere befitting a funeral, Dior fielded its last collection by disgraced designer John Galliano, who was sacked after 14 years with the luxury house over allegations he made anti-Semitic remarks.

Galliano and his usual entourage of A-list celebrities avoided Friday’s show, even though Dior is always among the most highly anticipated shows on the Paris fashion calendar.

Dior CEO Sidney Toledano took to the catwalk ahead of the fall-winter 2011-12 ready-to-wear show, apologizing for Galliano’s “unacceptable and hurtful” remarks.

“What happened over the last week has been a terrible and wrenching ordeal for us,” he said, referring in part to a video posted on the Internet that shows an inebriated Galliano praising Adolf Hitler.

“These statements have deeply shocked and saddened all at Dior who give body and soul to their work, and it’s particularly painful they come from someone so admired for his remarkable creative talent,” Toledano said.

He said Galliano’s comments went against the very grain of the house, founded in the aftermath of World War II to “make (women) happy, to make them dream.”

“The values that Mr. Dior taught us are unchanged today,” said Toledano.

After Toledano’s statement, which had the solemnity of an eulogy, the music began thumping on the icy blue set under a tent in the gardens of the Rodin Museum, and Dior spokesmodel Karlie Kloss took to the runway in a dramatic, floor-length cape and a wide-brimmed hat.

The collection, designed under Galliano’s supervision, was a kind of best-of Galliano’s work for Dior. There were the boho, 1970s-infused looks that opened the show, snug leather jackets and flowing parkas with fur trim, and then a seemingly interminable parade of sheer bias-cut silk gowns, perennial best-sellers.

“You could definitely feel Galliano in those designs. Fashion is built on what comes before it and John is really still here,” said Linda Fargo, Bergdorf Goodman senior vice president.

She called the occasion a “sad day. Everyone’s is kind of wistful.”

“I want to say it’s history in the making, but it’s more like history in the unmaking,” Fargo said, adding that the house had handled the difficult situation with “perfect pitch.”

Russian supermodel Natalia Vodianova expressed sympathy for Galliano, saying he is “under influence of a disease.”

“This is beyond his power. And I know, because I’m Russian, I’ve met people under the influence of alcohol doing monstrous things before,” Vodianova said as she left the show. “It was very sad and I really wish him all the best. And I hope he will get help soon.”

At the end of the show, when Galliano normally struts the catwalk to a hail of applause, seamstresses and artisans from Dior’s studio took to the catwalk. The audience gave them a standing ovation, and the white lab coat-clad staffers clapped along.

Dior officials unveiled a meager list of celebrity attendees Friday — mostly little-known French starlets, including actress Melanie Laurent and Vanessa Paradis’ sister, Alyssob Paradis, and Chinese actress Fan Bing Bing.

Security at the show was unusually high, with television teams being told they couldn’t speak to any of the celebrity guests.

A spokesman for Galliano’s own fashion line said the label was canceling its own runway show and instead will host a simple presentation of its latest collection.

Label spokesman Alexandre Malgouyres says the site of the presentation and the guest list haven’t been decided yet.

Presentations offer a lower-key environment than catwalk shows to display new collections.

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