The Schubert piece that was playing as invitees entered the huge, purpose-built salons where Raf Simons showed his first ready-to-wear collection for Dior today was familiar, especially to fans of The Hunger, David Bowie's 1983 vampire movie. Simons is an ardent Bowie-phile, and the very individual choice of music was the first sign that the designer was about to impress his personality on the massive edifice that is Dior. Where Galliano achieved the same thing by amping up the house till it matched his own delirious, romantic, saturatingly sensual historicism, Simons took a long, cool look at the heritage and found the strictness, the rigor, and a different kind of sensuality. His soundtrack spoke volumes: Detroit DJ legend Carl Craig, who took over from Schubert after the show started, delivers techno with warmth. Another telling detail: At July's Couture outing, the salons were color-coded with Galliano-esque walls of lush flowers; today, the same color-coding was achieved with minimal, diaphanous curtaining. Rococo to Bauhaus—that evolution speaks another volume or two.
According to the show notes—and Raf's own words—the key descriptor for this new era at Dior is "freedom." But freedom from all restraint ultimately leads to the excess of self-destruction. What we saw today, by contrast, suggested an appreciation of the power of limits. How much more inspiring is discipline than free rein. That much was already clear, by the way, in the dress rehearsal that was Simons' Couture show in July.
Its achievements were revisited here, starting with the cheeky Le Smoking passage that launched proceedings in both instances. It's been impossible to ignore the media-fanned flames of the Raf-Hedi face-off that this week has generated. Simons managed to make his tux jacket-dress both a riposte to the YSL rivalry and a manifesto for himself. He de-stuffed Dior's classic Bar hourglass silhouette by turning it into something for morning, noon, and night, worn with shorts, a skirt, or nothing. Simons is clearly going to be good at the de-stuffing thing. In his ready-to-wear, as in his couture, he carved off the big below-the-waist bit of a gala gown, leaving just the visual interest of its top half. Guipure lace was turned into a two-tone bustier mini. Double-facing was responsible for a spectacular set of oh-so-simple but high-impact pop shapes in bifurcated color. The collection's most stringently disciplined statement was also one of its best looks: Kinga Rajzak's navy and black dress in pleated tulle.
Still, Simons' genuine, deep-seated affection for the tropes of couture is one of the qualities that has given a potent edge to all his design for the past few years. His full-skirted finale—the severe black silk-cashmere knit top, the erotic, iridescent balloon of floral-printed satin duchesse—distilled history into a special kind of twenty-first-century glamour.