It was a tense crowd and an intimidating crush outside the Musée Rodin in rue de Varenne on Friday. The narrow street was thronged with onlookers and heavily policed, and fashion week's most notoriously scary security guards had been employed to filter out the uninvited. Fashion was under siege and guests scurried in, visibly nervous.
Earlier, there had been a protest outside the venue calling for the return of John Galliano, who was sacked on March 1 from his role as the creative director at Dior, after video was released showing the designer drunkenly making anti-Semitic comments to a group of Italian women at the La Perle bar in Paris. Click here to see video
Galliano is to stand trial in a French criminal court on a charge of "public insult" relating to accusations by two others, Geraldine Bloch and Philippe Vertigi, that he hurled anti-Semitic and racist abuse at them, a criminal offence in France.
The designer, until now one of the darlings of fashion, is reported to have checked into rehab, having released a statement on Tuesday that both apologised for any offence caused and denied the claims against him.
"A number of independent witnesses have given evidence and have told the police that I was subjected to verbal harassment and an unprovoked assault when an individual tried to hit me with a chair having taken violent exception to my look and my clothing," he said in the statement. "For these reasons I have commenced proceedings for defamation and the threats made against me. However, I fully accept that the accusations made against me have greatly shocked and upset people."
Certainly Natalie Portman was unequivocal in her condemnation of Galliano's remarks, which included the words "I love Hitler", and Dior lost no time in first suspending and then firing the designer, who has worked at the couture house since 1997.
Outside the museum gates, one flamboyantly attired man carried a board saying "The king is gone"; it was an apt phrase, the talk before the show being all about the succession: who could possibly take over from one of the greatest designers of the past 20 years? Riccardo Tisci, Alber Elbaz, Hedi Slimane, Stefano Pilati and Raf Simons are all names being thrown around, but the decision is unlikely to be made in haste.
As guests hurried into the huge tent, through the courtyard of the museum (though some, such as Anna Wintour and the few celebrity guests who attended, were able to enter through a less frenetic back door), the mood in the seats was one of anxious anticipation.
Yet for all the stress and sadness - and there was many a tear shed later on - there's nothing the fashion world loves more than gossip, speculation and drama, and there is real business to be done here as well. How would this venerable fashion house deal with the shame it was suffering as a result of Galliano's comments?
It was, in the end, well played. As the lights went down, the music stopped and so did the chattering, to be replaced with supportive applause and cheering as Sidney Toledano, the president of Christian Dior, stepped on to the set and began to read a speech in French. He reminded the audience of Dior's heritage, of M Dior's mission of respect for women and of the fact that Dior's own sister had been incarcerated in the Buchenwald death camp during the Second World War.
"These statements have deeply shocked and saddened all at Dior who give body and soul to their work, and it is particularly painful that they came from someone so admired for his remarkable creative talent. What happened last week has been a terrible and wrenching ordeal for us all," said Toledano. "The heart of the House of Dior, which beats unseen, is made up of its teams and studios, of its seamstresses and craftsmen, who work hard day after day, never counting the hours, and carrying on the values and the vision of M Dior. What you are to see now is the result of the extraordinary, creative and marvellous efforts of these loyal, hardworking people."
It was those seamstresses and craftsmen who took the bow traditionally reserved for the designer, with none of the flounce and theatricality of Galliano's customary strut down the catwalk: they simply streamed out together, in their white coats, and enjoyed a standing ovation.
They wept. The crowd wept. Toledano lurked at the back with his head in his hand. As everyone slowly and quietly made their way out, slightly shaky, slightly embarrassed, and a little bit overwhelmed by this shared emotion, Galliano was already being spoken about in the past tense and the clothes were barely mentioned.
That's a shame, because it was a rather lovely collection, if not as visionary as his superb Gruau-influenced couture show earlier this year. With a typically Galliano inspiration of the Romantic poets of the Regency period, the velvets, taffetas, thick wools and ruffled tulle made a covetable parade, richly coloured in blues, burgundies, aubergine and green, with summery pale blues and pinks for eveningwear.
Boots came to the mid-calf or were laced up over the knee while the platform shoes for evening, in soft pink suede, were beribboned and girlish. While one or two drop-waisted frocks passed through, it was the empire-line that took centre stage, with stiff-peplumed leather, velvet and wool jackets belted high under the bust, and evening gowns in delicately embroidered chiffon and lace.
Long capes, worthy of a Regency nonpareil, big soft felt hats and knickerbockers made explicit the historical bent of the collection, but it was in no way merely costume, and without the more outlandish styling so often employed by Galliano (the mask-like make-up and so on) it was easy to see the many beautiful pieces of clothing as they will appear in the shops.
Perhaps for Dior this is a corner turned, a chance for a fresh approach to translating its exquisite archive and ethos. But as a poignantly timed exhibition at Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche, called Eternellement Dior, reminds us, John Galliano had ever an eye to the house's identity, and a rich mine of creativity with which to dress his reinterpretations. He'll be a hard act to follow but it's been said before and it will be said again: the show must go on.