When Raf Simons read Christian Dior's autobiography during his summer break in Puglia, he found unexpected parallels with his own state of mind, particularly in Dior's love of the countryside, the garden he would retreat to, the flowers he grew there. "There was such purity in that story," said Simons after his lyrical sophomore show for Dior Couture this afternoon. Lately he's been satisfying his own need to retreat into nature in his parents' garden in the village he grew up in, the place he once couldn't wait to leave. But Simons' appetite for nature was satisfied by an altogether different kind of garden today.
As a metaphor for rebirth, spring can't be beat. It was always an especially big deal for Belgians, according to Simons. So he made spring come early for Dior with a collection that literalized the fashion season, evolving from sky shades of early spring evenings to a full-scale (in every way, Stephen Jones' bonnets included) celebration of the spring bride. One of Simons' preliminary goals at Dior has been, he claimed, to connect with the company's long-timers. That came through in the workmanship in today's show, as though he'd set challenges for the atelier's artisans to meet.
Flowers have offered infinite possibilities to Dior's petits mains since Christian himself was at the helm. You could take your pick from the special effects today: beading so delicate it was almost invisible, a trompe l'oeil drift of pansies across a waistband, a cocoon of embroidered and appliquéd blooms. There is something so utterly intense about couture handwork that it can still the noise in a room—Simons' own awe was palpable in these garments.
He has spoken about bringing more reality to couture. It would be a miracle if he didn't feel that way. The pants, the pockets in skirts—they were all part of that. At the same time, you have to wonder why someone would take on a couture house unless they were going to explore every permutation of possible. Simons said his first couture collection for Dior was shaped by the archive. Here, he talked about an urge to let go. The asymmetry, the déconstruit aspect, the organic flou were reflections of that. But so was the sleekly constructed quality Simons described as futurist. It was ingeniously precise in architectural layers: gilet over bustier over one skirt over another skirt. Hair and makeup helped: Pat McGrath's crystal lips, Guido Palau's pixie wigs. Dior's favorite model apparently had a similar haircut. The designer also mentioned Audrey Hepburn, and Janet Leigh in Psycho. "A woman who dares to be different," he said.
Bracket this show with the men's collection he presented under his own name last Wednesday, and it becomes clear that Simons contains worlds. He describes his own as "dark and conceptual." The world he is creating for Dior is the opposite: serene, full of color and light. What connects the two is his purity of vision, and the endearing innocence with which it goes hand in hand. But when Simons took Haute Couture back to the garden this season, he opened up another world, and this one's our favorite. It's that world of infinite possibilities.