Raf Simons is partial to the word sensitive. It's a quality he respects in people, maybe because it's something that is fundamental to the way he operates. So when he talked about the sensitivity of Christian Dior at his second prêt-à-porter show for the house today, you knew it was because he was feeling a kinship. But it was coming from a place you wouldn't quite expect. Simons is a well-known player in the contemporary art world. Turns out Dior was, too, in his pre-fashion career as a gallerist for the likes of Dalí and Giacometti. In this show, art was the thread that drew Dior and Simons closer together.
Its impact on the clothes was most obvious in Simons' decision to use Andy Warhol's early drawings as a recurring graphic, just like the time he used Foujita's artwork as a leitmotif at Jil Sander. He liked the fact that Warhol is someone everyone thinks they know, but here was a finer, more sensitive take on him. Warhol's spidery shoe drawings were embroidered or—better yet—embossed on bags; his portraits of women were details on a peplum top or a bustier dress. And Simons used graphic Warholian elements on the pieces he called "memory dresses," gorgeous silk shifts that he compared to scrapbooks because they were studded with embroidered fragments that induced a fugue state of reverie (for Warhol fans, at least).
Warhol also echoed in the silvered spheres suspended in the room (like the artist's iconic "clouds") and the Laurie Anderson soundtrack that reflected his anomic public persona, but as striking and memorable as this window dressing was, the collection was ultimately about the relationship between Simons and Dior. The Bar jacket—no getting around it—was paired with baggy pants in a navy or charcoal denim wool, and in one fell swoop an ironclad fashion icon surrendered to the moment. Same with the peacoat that was reconfigured as a dress in gray cashmere. Or all the asymmetry that Simons has made such a point of in his work for Dior so far, here softly draped, tied to one side with a bow, as easy as pie.
If there was one clear message he was broadcasting, it was complete control. Maybe that's why Simons danced with the devil by introducing elements as ironically mumsy as a black mink coat or a crocheted suit, just to prove he could melt them into his mix by sheer force of creative will. Just look at the way the classic "lady" silhouettes—bustier, full-skirted—were translated into black leather, or the Dior houndstooth was transmogrified into a sexy little bustier with a wrapped silk dress. Such outfits may not have been as dreamily evocative as Simons' memory dresses, but they'll likely be the ambassadors for the new Dior.