You know that Raf Simons orchestrates every single detail of his presentations. So every single detail is worthy of consideration as an instant of insight into the designer's mind. The obvious starting point for interpretation with Raf's Jil Sander
show today was the set: a floor laid with rubber matting which reeked of cars, a blank back wall with a graffiti-ed door. We were in an underground parking garage. There was an increasingly urgent ticking, that door swung open, and a man entered in a huge black leather trenchcoat, while the theme from director Steve McQueen's cinematic cause célèbre Shame swelled on the soundtrack. After the show, Raf was insistent that he wanted people to wonder who this man was. Where had he been? What had he been doing? A scenario of horror and pain seemed like an obvious human response. "What you see is who you are," was Raf's droll backstage comeback. But that seemed like a cop-out, given that a guy in a black leather trench in an underground garage is more likely to be Dexter than Mr Rogers.
But that was really the challenge of this entire collection. If a black leather trench says fascist henchman to you, if Trent Reznor's "Animal" (which followed Shame on Michel Gaubert's soundtrack) strikes you as a minor masterpiece of misogyny, these weren't your clothes. Raf claimed he'd isolated certain key components of the way men dress, but just look at those components: black leather, a sailor collar, a suit. What men are defined by that curious assemblage? He said he wanted a cross-generational thing: the man who is a father, the man who stays a boy. In other words, masculinity that is troubled for whatever reason. On that level at least, the Jil Sander collection delivered. The tailoring was extraordinary, but the seaming on one leather jacket was almost corsetlike, and the swathes of black (impossible to tell—calf leather or waxed nylon?) were so sinister as to swallow light. Deliberate on Raf's part: "With Jil, we've been so daring with color, and black is so specific, now we're being daring with black." The idea of the dare was clearly significant. When he was challenged on who the man emerging into the underground garage was, he said, "A very luxurious man who's daring with material." Not Dexter after all, in other words.
In fact, there's a rather more enchantingly subversive interpretation of this dark cavalcade, which paints Raf as the couture king of the Occupy movement. The suit is the armor of the banksters who stole the bailout and rode roughshod over the 99 percent. Cut that suit in black leather and you've got yourself a cloak of evil. Raf paraded it with exactly the same repetitive force that Steve McQueen used in Shame to portray his main character's empty serial sexual encounters. And that character was, of course, a money man.