By Eric Wilson
Updated Oct 22, 2015 @ 1:30 pm
Raf Simons
Credit: Rindoff/Dufour/French Select/Getty Images

Powerhouse designer Raf Simons shocked the fashion world on Thursday with the news that he is leaving Christian Dior after more than three years as its artistic director, responsible for the modern revitalization of its ready-to-wear and couture. While Simons had been rumored to be exploring other career options in recent weeks, including a possible role stateside, the announcement nevertheless is a stunning development that will have ripple effects throughout the industry for months to come.

To begin: What’s next for Raf, and who’s next at Dior?

Undoubtedly, the Simons era at Dior, as unexpectedly short as it turned out to be, was a powerful chapter in the history of the house. With his ethereal twists on the historic codes of Dior, and his charming demeanor that comes across poignantly in the recent documentary Dior & I, Simons managed to quickly wipe away the dark cloud that followed the 2011 dismissal of John Galliano over his anti-Semitic outbursts.

Simons, with his jaw-dropping collections and elaborate runway sets, almost instantly regained the trust of key retailers, and developed a new celebrity following as well. His dresses for Jennifer Lawrence, Charlize Theron, and Marion Cotillard helped set a new tone for experimentation on the red carpet.

Simons, in a statement published by WWD describing the departure as amicable, addressed his own plans: “It is a decision based entirely and equally on my desire to focus on other interests in my life, including my own brand, and the passions that drive me outside my work.” His signature collection has been growing rapidly in profile, such as with his popular collaboration with the artist Sterling Ruby and his line for Adidas sneakers – those monochrome shoes that have been everywhere this season.

Now the guessing game begins on the next designer for Dior, which is widely seen as one of the most prestigious in fashion. Interestingly, the change comes at a moment when companies are reconsidering the qualities they expect from a heritage brand, and in some cases, changing the rules.

The appointment of Demna Gvasalia, of the underground label Vetements, at Balenciaga this month is a prime example of a newfound interest in lesser known designers with the potential to shake things up. And some of the candidates who were considered to initially replace Galliano no longer make sense, given that Marc Jacobs, for one, is now so focused on his signature collection.

And of course, once potential names begin to surface (Alber Elbaz, Riccardo Tisci, Phoebe Philo, and Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough must feel their ears burning right now), then the comes a game of musical chairs that should entertain us through the new year.