Back to the land. For reasons that are purely instinctual, the emotional fallout of last year's economic crash seems to be leading a lot of creative people to think fundamentally about the vast outdoors, landscape, the elements. That fascination has been cropping up in many style magazines lately and has caught the imaginations of Proenza Schouler and Rodarte in recent collections. In Milan, it has affected Raf Simons, too. "I find myself going back into nature," he said. "It's quite simple, as well as intellectual." That was why his clothes took on a rough-hewn edge—dresses in which layers of fabric were peeled back and left hanging in patches; linen and gauze tailoring patched together in sheer and opaque zones; and knitwear manipulated into complex conceptual surface patterns to conceal and reveal skin in unexpected ways.
If that sounds "rustic" (which is another way this trend can take people: see Ralph Lauren)—wrong impression. Simons' look was far more conceptual than that and was inspired by looking at the work of land artists and Antonioni's 1970 film Zabriskie Point. We knew this because Simons spelled out his sources beforehand on multiple video screens showing clips of work by various artists, including Christo, Gordon Matta-Clark, and Richard Wilson—grainy film of land being wrapped, buildings being demolished, and so on. When the show started, all the screens switched to the famous Zabriskie Point sequence of couples rolling in the dust of Death Valley, while the movie soundtrack played in the background. As a performance in real time, it was all a bit didactic, not to say distracting to watch, especially as there was already so much—too much, really—going on in the clothes.
What's discernible at first impression is that, aside from the showpieces, there are still plenty of the regular, neutral-toned city daywear options a businesswoman wants from Jil Sander. The navy pantsuit with a wider leg and a belted blazer looked modern-minimal in the house tradition, and there were many jackets, such as those in glazed hopsack linen, to service customers who can't go to work in a piece of art. Otherwise, what came across in this show was that Simons has gotten his way in insisting on the freedom to experiment with Jil Sander. (There was a moment last season when the shuttering of the Hamburg atelier made it seem like that era was drawing to a close.) That's a good thing, of course, though there's still a sense that he could convey more by condensing what he has to say.