Police whistles, a chanting crowd, the city lullaby of angry car horns...it was business as usual outside the Dior couture show in Paris. But still, it was surprising business given that the designer now installed at the head of this illustrious French fashion house is the reclusive Belgian, Raf Simons.
A former industrial furniture design student, Simons has hitherto eschewed the razzmatazz of the fashion-show-as-circus. During his tenure at Jil Sander, the minimalist fashion label, he was notorious for not giving interviews and for crowd dodging. His quiet but rigorously architectural take on femininity and his beautiful colour palettes still made waves, even in Hollywood, despite his policy of never inviting celebrities to his shows.
That was then. Dior is a much bigger company than Sander and they do things differently there. While Princess Charlene of Monaco posed on the grand stone staircase leading up to the first floor, Donatella Versace, vanilla-coloured hair almost reflective in the sunlight, smiled for the paparazzi outside, alongside the model Natalia Vodianova, who's now dating Antoine Arnault, son of Bernard, the head of LVMH.
"Lizbet" Lizbet!" yelled the photographers, as the luminous actress Isabelle Huppert tottered in, thin as a blade in black trouser suit. "Lizbet? Her name's Isabelle," said Donatella helpfully. Whatever.
The show was 40 minutes late and for a surprising amount of that time, the audience sat in hushed anticipation. Perhaps they'd been knocked out by the scent of the thousands of flowers that covered the walls from ceiling to floor. The industry has been waiting 18 months to see where Dior would go after the catastrophic car-crash of John Galliano's final years there. The answer, to judge from the 54 outfits Simons showed is back to the future.
In the four months since his appointment, he has dug deep in the archives. But this was no slavish homage. Dior's original 1947 New Look was a bulky, padded, majesterial affair. Galliano's versions were more exaggerated still. Simons scaled down the width of those skirts, although by elongating the waists he ensured their impact was just as dramatic. Incorporating the signature 'Bar Jacket' into black trouser suits or turning it into a tuxedo-dress, and relocating its cupped pockets so that they now sit over the breasts of bustiers, were three more ideas that worked beautifully as instant updaters. As were the arrow-sharp stiletto court shoes - classic from the front, but with a sculpted, curved heel, worn either with full or pencil skirts or skinny trousers.
There was much that was familiar - not only from the history books of Dior - but from his own canon. A pale pink 'New Look' dress and a red full skirted coat weren't a million miles from ones he designed at Jil Sander just before he left. For evening, it was more of the same: but embroidered and appliquéd, sometimes in patchwork panels. By avoiding theatrical gimmicks, he ran the risk of looking as though he hadn't done much, but this was a clever, subtle reworking of Dior's DNA, which promises well for collections to come, and delivered all that he wanted.
"I'm not interested in just doing couture that works in magazine pictures. I want it to be relevant" he said after the show. Yes he spoke: another departure from normality.
When fashion-show audiences last saw designer Raf Simons, he was standing on the Jil Sander runway back in February flush with emotion. Simons was leaving the house that he had remade in his own aesthetic image, one of humanistic minimalism, confident color palettes, and a kinship with the visual arts. In that moment, his destination was pure rumor and the concern was real that his wholly modern sensibility was about to be lost.
Monday afternoon in Paris, Simons took his first bows as creative director of Christian Dior with his debut couture collection. Even as Simons celebrated the rich history of the venerable French brand, his dedication to the contemporary woman remained undiminished. At Jil Sander, Simons had begun an intimate dialogue with a woman for whom sophistication, ease, and romance are inextricably linked. Thankfully, he does not desert her at Dior.
The setting of Simons’s fall/winter 2013 couture collection was one of those grand Parisian homes from a time when being a demi-royal counted for something. The guests were seated in a series of connecting salons, each one wallpapered in a thick blanket of fresh flowers. The salon bleu drew its name from the thousands of delphiniums blossoming from the walls. Another room was covered in white orchids. Yet another one bloomed with peonies and roses. The scent was exquisite. The sight was magical.
“I’ll have to borrow this idea for a movie,” quipped an admiring Harvey Weinstein. The Hollywood producer is a friend of the house, as they say in fashion-ese.
To prepare for this collection, Simons spent considerable time in the Dior archives and emerged inspired by the clothes’ distinct architecture as well as their references to flowers. But instead of focusing purely on the color and whimsy of blossoms, Simons looked at their structure. The bust detail on his dresses often mimicked the layering of petals, for instance. Simons zeroed in on proportions, transforming full-skirted ball gowns into little tops that barely covered the derrière and were paired with slender black trousers. Indeed, his most dynamic looks were those in which richly embroidered bodices were contrasted with austere trousers—a blending of the past and the present.
There was evidence of Dior’s masterful workrooms where skilled seamstresses and tailors have honed their craft for decades, even as designers have come and gone. Ball gowns lush with pale feathers stayed true to couture’s promise to sweep one up in a fantasy. And gowns that combined two utterly unrelated color palettes and embroideries—one story coming and another one going—made the most of dazzling handiwork.
But the strength of this collection, the assertive way in which Simons announced his arrival, was in the shapes. That’s where his hand seemed most sure, with the trim bodices, the rounded hips, the cinched waists. The relative simplicity of his colorful mesh jackets and skirts made the eye linger thanks to their strong lines. To be sure, there were gestures that recalled some of his later work at Jil Sander—a more than pleasant reference—but that work, in turn, owed a debt to Dior.
If there was a disappointment, it was Simons’s use of fur. This isn’t a political assessment but rather an aesthetic one. Astrakhan fur pants might be an indulgence that is irresistible to a couture customer—that rare, fabulously wealthy, patient-enough-to-endure-multiple-fittings bird—but their bulk was more than even the slenderest of models could overcome. There was tremendous technique in a midnight-blue mink and astrakhan cocktail dress, but the ultimate garment was unforgiving to the female figure.
The hubbub surrounding Simons’s debut—as expressed by the multitude of hovering passersby and photographers, the parade of admiring designers and the anticipation of fashion editors—reflected the esteem in which Dior is held and the tumult the house has been through. The brand, owned by billionaire Bernard Arnault, remains the crown jewel in French fashion, famous for its post–World War II “New Look” that helped to revive a deeply disaffected and struggling national industry. The search for a new designer, which lasted more than a year, had been triggered by the public humiliation of its former creative director, John Galliano. He was fired after making anti-Semitic comments in a Paris bistro.
Galliano’s former assistant, Bill Gaytten, helmed the collection in the interim.
In a show of both curiosity and good wishes, a host of designers attended Simons’s debut, including Donatella Versace—who presented her Atelier Versace collection Sunday evening—along with Azzedine Alaia, Lanvin’s Alber Elbaz, and Olivier Theyskens, who has designed for Rochas, Nina Ricci, and now is creative director at Theory. “Raf was at my very first show and I was at his first show,” Theyskens said as he arrived to carry on the tradition of support.
As the last models made a final march from salon to salon, the audience applauded pleasantly—and, perhaps, with a quiet sigh of relief. Simons, dressed in black trousers and a black shirt, took his bow and gave the audience a wave. The collection was not a definitive pronouncement of a new Dior, nor was it too attached to history. It was not a spectacle. But it was far more than a mere droning on about techniques and hidden luxuries. It was the best sort of debut: one that promises a thoughtful conversation.
Fashion had seen nothing like it for years. Outside in the street, there was hysteria. Inside, the industry's great and good—Alaïa, Elbaz, Jacobs, Theyskens, Tisci, Van Assche, Versace, von Furstenberg—gathered to see Raf Simons debut his first haute couture collection for Christian Dior. That it would be a success seemed a given, what with the evolving polish and confidence of Simons' "couture trilogy" for his previous employer, Jil Sander. That it would be such a triumph was a thrill. The avant-garde outsider from Antwerp insinuated himself into the hallowed history of haute couture with a tour de force that had both emotional and intellectual resonance. As the man himself said, "A shift is happening."
About that outsider thing: It's a position that has always loaned a crystal clarity to Simons' vision and has helped him to the purest interpretations of his inspirations. Here, he used that unusually heightened sense of focus to reflect on Christian Dior as architect, a notion that dovetailed neatly with his own obsession with construction. The first look—a tuxedo whose jacket was shaped after Dior's iconic Bar jacket, one of the most distinctive silhouettes in fashion—established an innate compatibility that reached across a half-century.
Simons has been engaged with this world for a while. Dior was obviously the guiding spirit of his fascination with midcentury couture during his last seasons with Sander. But he approached an actual couture collection with an appropriate balance of reverence and iconoclasm. One key silhouette could best be defined as a full-skirted classic ball gown truncated at the peplum (a quote from a 1952 collection, according to the run of show), its skirt replaced by black silk cigarette pants. The formal past, the streamlined future, meeting in the middle. It was the same with the traditional Bucol silks woven to represent a painting, drips and all, by Sterling Ruby, one of the contemporary art world's hottest properties (and a Simons favorite). Past and future met again in an evening ensemble that matched the athletic ease of a citron silk knit to the grandeur of a floor-sweeping silk skirt. And the veils that Stephen Jones contributed to the finale may have suggested Paris in the 1930's, but there is timeless allure in that look.
Simons returned to the flared hip of the Bar with a deep-pocketed coat-dress in red cashmere as well as a strapless dress in the same heartbreaking shade of pink that launched his last Sander show. That was the kind of subtle personal flourish that married his own story to Dior's history. It also underlined how much of an asset Simons will be not just to Dior but to couture itself. He can't help himself; he will bring a heart-on-his-sleeve human dimension to this remote and rarefied world.
But as he proved today, he certainly won't be doing it in a low-key way. Christian Dior's own obsession—flowers—was translated into salons lined ceiling to floor with panels of blooms: delphiniums in the blue room, orchids in the white room, mimosa in the yellow room, and so on. More than a million all told, making a gorgeous architectural abstraction of nature. There's some kind of metaphor about creative processes in there somewhere, but it's simpler to leave things with Simons' own definition of the day: "a blueprint."
I'm throughly impressed with this collection. No, of course it's not Galliano's Dior but honestly we shouldn't expect it to be. Galliano and Raf are very different designers and they are going to approach the label differently. Whereas Galliano's Dior was a massive spectacle, Raf's Dior looks like it might be more refined and the real beauty will be in the details. Now onto my opinions of the actual collection.... I really do like this collection, even though it seems to be getting a lot of hate. Much of the collection is quintessential Dior but with a touch of Raf's style too. His work at Jill Sander was rather "simplistic" but the beauty of it lay in the details. And I think he's carrying that over from his day's at Jill but this is also because it's part of his aesthetic too. Also, that one white gown is simply divine! I really hope the right celebrity get's to wear that to a red carpet event, it looks like it was made to be a show-stopper. Overall, I love the details in the garments, the later pictures show them much better then the pictures from the beginning of the thread. The construction and details of the garments are what make them Haute Couture to me. I think in time Raf's vision of Dior will be fully realized but as for now it's just a little preview of his capabilities.
__________________ http://miss-rumphius.tumblr.com/ "It is ever so much easier to be good if your clothes are fashionable." Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Last edited by YoninahAliza; 02-07-2012 at 07:10 PM.
This has got to be one of the best couture collections I've seen in a long time I love almost everything about this. Those peplum tops over the pants are divine, and the ballgowns are just sublime. I can't believe anyone is saying that they prefer Gaytten's work over this, considering I maybe saw one or two nice words about him on here and everyone else (myself included) hated his work. I think Raf did a wonderful job, I think the fact that he carried over some of his ideas from his last collection is great I don't think he should have thrown everything he just did out the window and move on to something new, even if it's a new house he's working for. If I have one complaint to make, it's in one detail I saw him using: I hate when designers to sheer top gowns, where the bodice is solid fabric and the top is see through, rarely ever do they look good and those are the only pieces in this otherwise outstanding collection that
I don't like
"For something to be beautiful it doesn't have to be pretty." - Rei Kawakubo
Given the current way couture is going (has anyone seen Valli HC? It's terrifying) The most daring thing Raf Simons could've done was to simplify, and that is exactly what he did. The aesthete is a bit confused/lacking, but it's good enough to make me very excited about what's to come.
Very good, but not great. I don't really understand the reactions on the side of either extreme in response to this collection. It doesn't redefine couture, nor is it a blight on the institution. In the end this is largely a collection of very beautiful, very chic, and somewhat quirky looking clothes with what I imagine will be quite astronomical price tags attached.
Something tells me that Raf will come into his own much more quickly with the RTW end of things -- not because this looks like RTW (despite what plenty keep insisting; personally I can't recall ever seeing a circle-skirted astrakhan dress on a ready to wear runway) -- but because his sensibility is so much more in line with what's expected out of pret-a-porter. I have a feeling it will be a few seasons before we get a real idea of just what he can do with couture. It's sort of the inverse of Galliano, who's Dior debut for HC was basically perfect while his ready to wear took some time to really hit it's mark in terms of commercial success. Who knows, though?
Overall I love the opening black tailoring, I love the accessorizing throughout (although some of those necklaces looked a lot like the ones Balenciaga did in 2008), I LOVE those fur pieces (I've never liked a fur dress more) and some of the evening looks as well. I do, however, think this could've been edited down by at least 10 looks.
You need to move fashion forward when there's a reason to move fashion forward - Tom Ford
We don't need to look at any archives. I'm sick of everyone pushing this "heritage" "archives" nonsense. When Christian Dior designed those collections 60 some years ago he was saying something new. This looks like a basic collection that could have been made by anyone with access to Dior's vast archives. Its a pretty good ready-to-wear collection but not modern couture. I was hoping for a rebirth like the one YSL pulled at Dior; not the same silhouettes that Raf was just using at Jil Sander. No, we don't need frills and theatrics but we also don't need a ceaseless rerun of collections gone by. This isn't about Galliano its about boring couture clothing (hell even something truly hideous would have been more interesting) from one of the top fashion houses. I'm not impressed with the collection or the mannequins.
Could not have said it better, that is exactly how I feel!
Unsurprisingly most of the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. Had this been Bill or any other Designer they would have been torn apart and ripped to shreds. There have been designers doing minimal couture like this for years and not once were they praised for it they way this has been so far. This is not revolutionary nor is it new. The construction is perfect and the tailoring is incredible, but where can't you go to get that? Theatrics are not important, the clothes are. His first offering is an unambitious overly referential hosh posh of ideas. I'm incredibly curious to see how Dior will justify the prices on some of these pieces.
I'm disappointed in Raf and even more disappointed by the fact that true fashion journalism no longer has an original voice.
Amen. You summed it up perfectly.
I am quite shocked at all the acclaim but since it's Raf. . .
First thing ... I know in my heart of heart that ACTUAL couture clients will buy this stuff.
This collection is not designed for editorials and then gather dust in the archives. THIS CLOTHES ARE MADE TO BE WORN.
His take on the bar jacket is impeccable. And I bet most of the people who compared this collection to Jil Sanders aesthetics do not even know what the bar jacket it.
His last collection for Jil was Dior, not Sander, get your fashion history and silhouettes together, people! Do your homework!!!!
It will be SO sweet if Raf dethrones Karl and sells at least half of this collection .. Id hate to see this worn by celebs ... this is hc kickin' it old school and its a perfect understated fit.
There were very subtle surprised with the colour palette and textures.
Bravo, Raf! You delivered!
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I lurk a lot but have been compelled to post to proffer my (admittedly unrequested) opinion on the discussion currently taking place:
It's pointless to judge a couture collection--or any collection, for that matter--based on photos, HD or not. Couture at it's heart is about fabric, about construction, about fit, about a handmade dress or coat or jacket or pant. This is why we still do fashion shows, otherwise we could just take high res photos of everything and save 200 people the trip four times a year. It is not about gowns and wedding dresses and red carpet nonsense. That's fun and all, but not what it's about.
What I always see happening on TFS, and this thread is no exception, is that someone puts up photos of a collection and a bunch of self-congratulatory posters start barking what terrible/amazing job the designer did while patting each other on the back about how great their taste level is. "I agree! No, you're wrong!" That's all well and good, but unless you see how a garment moves, feel the touch of a fabric against your skin, look at the seams and held it in your hands, your opinion is pretty much worthless.
This is why fashion journalism exists, and this is also why a good number of reviewers make appointments after shows, or go backstage and fuss around while the models undress. I've seen collections that on paper looked incredible and in real life were drab or insipid (It's amazing what a good stylist can do). And I've seen cases where a collection that looked boring on paper blew me away when I saw it in the showroom or at a store (This has been the case with more than one Raf collection).