Fashion had seen nothing like it for years. Outside in the street, there
was hysteria. Inside, the industry's great and good—Alaïa, Elbaz,
Jacobs, Theyskens, Tisci, Van Assche, Versace, von Furstenberg—gathered
to see Raf Simons debut his first haute couture collection for Christian Dior. That it would be a success seemed a given, what with the evolving
polish and confidence of Simons' "couture trilogy" for his previous
employer, Jil Sander. That it would be such a triumph was a thrill. The avant-garde outsider from Antwerp insinuated himself into the hallowed history of haute couture with a tour de force
that had both emotional and intellectual
resonance. As the man himself said, "A shift is happening."
About that outsider thing: It's a position that has always loaned a
crystal clarity to Simons' vision and has helped him to the purest
interpretations of his inspirations. Here, he used that unusually
heightened sense of focus to reflect on Christian Dior as architect, a
notion that dovetailed neatly with his own obsession with construction.
The first look—a tuxedo whose jacket was shaped after Dior's iconic Bar
jacket, one of the most distinctive silhouettes in fashion—established
an innate compatibility that reached across a half-century.
Simons has been engaged with this world for a while. Dior was obviously
the guiding spirit of his fascination with midcentury couture (see the Q&A here) during his
last seasons with Sander. But he approached an actual couture collection
with an appropriate balance of reverence and iconoclasm. One key
silhouette could best be defined as a full-skirted classic ball gown
truncated at the peplum (a quote from a 1952 collection, according to the
run of show), its skirt replaced by black silk cigarette pants. The
formal past, the streamlined future, meeting in the middle. It was the same with
the traditional Bucol silks woven to represent a painting, drips and all,
by Sterling Ruby, one of the contemporary art world's hottest properties
(and a Simons favorite). Past and future met again in an evening
ensemble that matched the athletic ease of a citron silk knit to the grandeur of
a floor-sweeping silk skirt. And the veils that Stephen Jones contributed
to the finale may have been from Paris in the 1930's, but there is
timeless allure in that look.
Simons returned to the flared hip of the Bar with a deep-pocketed coat-dress in red cashmere as well as a strapless dress in the same
heartbreaking shade of pink that launched his last Sander show. That was
the kind of subtle personal flourish that married his own story to
history. It also underlined how much of an asset Simons will be not just
to Dior but to couture itself. He can't help himself; he will bring a
heart-on-his-sleeve human dimension to this remote and rarefied world.
But as he proved today, he certainly won't be doing it in a low-key way.
Christian Dior's own obsession—flowers—was translated into salons
lined ceiling to floor with panels of blooms: delphiniums in the blue
room, orchids in the white room, mimosa in the yellow room, and so on.
More than a million all told, making a gorgeous architectural abstraction
of nature. There's some kind of metaphor about creative processes in
there somewhere, but it's simpler to leave things with Simons' own definition
of the day: "a blueprint."