Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Raf Simons' sensitive, triumphant debut at Dior

Myself and every design obsessed friend I know stayed up lastnight to watch the live-stream of Raf Simons' first collection for the house of Dior, Haute Couture Fall 12. The chilly 1am start (in this part of the world) and imperfect live-stream still didn't fail to dampen the triumphant, beautiful debut collection as Simons lived up to all the industry's anticipation and hope of this iconic moment. 
Rather than a dramatic debut, Simons returned to the sensitivity and architecture of Mr Dior's original work showing couture with femininity, elegance and ease. Gone are the theatrics and post-irony of Galliano's tenure, and in their place is an exquisite, measured reinvention of what contemporary couture can be.

Naturally the experts can articulate this reception of this the best, and I've included what I felt were the most poignant and well said statements below. However I do want to talk about what resonated the most with me. For couture to survive it has to have relevance and modernity, best expressed in the sharp suit worn by Julia Nobis that opened the show and another that followed soon after. Tuxedo jackets that reference the iconic Bar shape (nipped waist, padded hips) paired with sharp, impeccably cut cigarette pants.

Likewise this achingly beautiful shade of pink (that appeared in that final Jil Sander collection) was revisited here -  enhanced further by the nostalgia and femininity of the the silhouette.

From Style.com
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." 

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. 

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.

Pristine ivory astrakan fur on the look on the left. A sensitive, contemporary and less ostentatious use of fur than we usually see at luxury houses. Yet another example of the modernity and relevance couture can still have.

Dresses in nostalgic silhouettes and beautifully anaemic colours - the one on the right is made of countless tiny feathers.

From The Guardian
There is a subtext to this New New Look that goes beyond respect for the house's esteemed founder. In one fell swoop, John Galliano has been all but removed from the Dior history books. By making a visual connection between his era and that of Christian Dior himself, Raf Simons has redrawn the line of succession. The unimpeachable codes of Dior are illustrated for a new generation; the bias-cut dresses and Kabuki styling of Galliano downgraded to a footnote. 

"Before the show, I found it difficult to imagine what Raf would do at Dior," admitted Versace, "but from the very first look today it made total sense." Elbaz described the collection as "absolutely poetic. It was perfection. Today was a beautiful marriage between a designer and a house."

Many of the black looks were my favorites - providing emphasis on silhouette and shape, whilst also representing the simplicity, sobriety and strength that Simons is so adept at. The look on  the left below worn by Suvi is, for me, one of the standouts and introduces the unfinished-gown idea that is a key concept in the collection.

Exquisitely fine fur (astrakan and mink) features in dresses, coats and trousers. Delicate and pristine.

From Cathy Horyn
The hardest thing to realize in fashion is that the future lies in the past. The second hardest thing is to forget the past. That precise turn of mind is what Raf Simons showed on Monday as he took control of Dior. And there is no other term for it. 

In almost every detail, Mr. Simons made a connection to the first decade of the house, when Dior himself was at work. He then put those ideas — among them an architectural purity in construction, a preference for pockets, a sense of femininity but also ease — through his own filter. 

It’s probably an exaggeration, though not much of one, to say that Mr. Simons swept aside much of the fashion story of the last 15 to 20 years, not least postmodern irony.

This red coat dress is one of the most beautiful and arresting examples of the stunning simplicity achieved by Simons with the codes of Dior. Pockets are set back as Mr Dior preferred.

Nostalgic ball-dress looks that continued down into cigarette pants were one of my favorite devices in the collection. Nostalgic and modern at the same time.

What did you think of Raf's debut? And did you stay up to watch it?

Image Source: Style.Com
First image from The Guardian


  1. Oh my god. Don't you just feel like you need pretty much all of these pieces in your life?

    I'm loving the length on the strapless dresses - the structure of all the garments really appeals. Fantastic line-up.

  2. the beatification (and cult) of Raf seems complete: the edgy, outsider Menswear designer, who captured the spirit of restlessness, dis-ease, youth and subversion, enters the hallowed halls of the establishment mute. Much was written about the promise of Raf and Hedi representing a new generation,a new point of view; exploring and exploding an eclectic array of inspirations and references particular to their generation. unfortunately, this collection is a total nostalgic regression: back to conformity and conservatism. Yes: these are beautiful clothes, but teaming the Bar with narrow trousers is not exactly moving things on. in context; compare this to recent Couture collections at Givenchy for a fairer display of potential for contemporary couture.
    i have always liked Raf's work; menswear and at Jil Sander where his clean sculptural minimalism was utterly modern, but for me, this collection was 'modern' only in the way it reflected the current conservatism of the current state of society. what happened to all designers such as St Laurent achieved in providing freedom, power and attitude, as well as new forms and silhouettes to fashion post-Dior 1957. do we really need to go back to these shapes of our Grandparents generation? on thing for sure- very commercial, but innovative, exciting, awe-inspiring? (personally) i think it just shows the sheer creative genius that Galliano was, but also of other designers such as Marc Jacobs (at LV) and Tisci who are really bring fresh techniques, materials and interesting combinations of ideas together to move fashion forward. I think Raf will do better- at least i hope so. totally polarizing view i know-love to hear others opinions! :-)

  3. I agree with Simon. I always thought Galliano was a genius and always will be. This collection lacks the attitude of Galliano's designs. Raf's work here is very matronly to say the least.

  4. "This collection lacks the attitude of Galliano's designs."
    This comment would be relevant had Simons been designing for Galliano. But he isn't. I don't see the fascination in clinging to the past - I'll be the first to admit that Galliano's work is some of my all time favourites, like his Spring 2004 and 2007 Couture shows. Half of the time Galliano just did whatever he wanted and it was okay because the general public found solace in his escapist and dynamic way of making clothing. I think Raf revisiting previous shapes like the Bar jacket at the start re-affirmed his position as reverent to Dior's work, but as it progressed Raf injected some of his own self into it. A marriage of the past and the present you could say. Matching the embroidered peplum tops with cigarette pants like on Vlada for example shows an impressive way of dissecting the "dior women as flowers" idea that started with the millions of flowers on the walls of each salon. It was even more impressive in the finale dresses that were sliced up the middle - a classic shape with a modern take. Even the colour wasn't what Dior used, but it worked. But I think calling the collection bland or "nostalgic recession" is a little redundant. He is a minimalist designer first and foremost, but he also showed how visiting a houses roots can be groundbreaking.