Parisian provocations: At Dior, Raf Simons suits

Alexander Fury
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A duo of Dior suits, by Raf Simons for autumn/winter 2014

We think of Dior as a house built on evening wear – the French call that flou, which, as the name implies, denotes garments with a sense of fluidity and lightness. Even if a Dior ball gown was anything but. But Dior’s most famous fashion image is of la tailleur Bar, the black-and-white suit that epitomised the silhouette Monsieur Dior christened “Corolle”, but which the world heralded as the “New Look”.

The Bar suit is one of those house codes that Raf Simons has been fixated on since he began redesigning Dior in 2012. Hence the fact that the suit’s jacket, the nip-waisted, thrust-hipped silhouette originally cut in tussore silk by Pierre Cardin (a tailor at Dior before setting up under his own steam) appears again and again, insistently, in his collections, cut in everything from grain de poudre to denim.

This season, Simons’ fixation broadened: to tailoring, as a whole. It’s often overlooked with that flowery flou stuff, but Dior’s curvaceous suiting formed a core of his collections, often pushing and provoking in a way a ball gown couldn’t. That nip-waisted Bar suit had a profligate forty metres of pleated wool in the skirt alone. As daytime attire, walking the streets, that was profoundly provocative. Especially in a post-war Paris where fabric was scarce, and many couldn’t afford to buy a loaf of bread. There are reports that women wearing Dior’s New Look suits had the garments shredded by enraged members of the public.

Raf Simons’ tailoring-focussed collection was provocative, too. He showed it on the eve, of the eve, of the Oscars. It barely contained any evening clothing. Considering how high-profile their red carpet moment s have been, that spoke volumes. The volumes it spoke were about Raf Simons’ fixations, his demands as a designer and, most importantly, the demands of the modern woman.

I don’t want to say the modern Dior customer, because I can’t help but think this collection, like the couture collection which preceded it, is the fashion equivalent of a recruitment drive. Not into the mid-century, cinched-in flower-lady stuff? Try a sharp suit in burgundy or hunter-green flannel, a vibrant fuchsia coat or a pair in primrose and cobalt.

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Christian Dior's 1947 "Bar" suit

Simons background is predominantly menswear. His sense of colour makes his work vibrate (think of those synthetic-y, neon mixes that so energised his spring 2014 menswear show), and it’s shown at Dior before. But never to quite this degree, plains of pure colour laid together to contrast brilliantly. Embellishment was pared down to touches of embroidery and quilting, giving an airy bounce to silk or nylon dresses. Nothing felt heavy, or forced.

It was similar in mood to the dynamism of the spring Dior couture show: if that show made every dress into a trainer (or, at least, it’s hand-crafted clothing equivalent) this cross-bred trainers with high-heels, and then cross-pollinated Dior’s flower-women with suited city girls, striding to work on footwear that mangled their Nike air-max with their pointy office stilettos. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if they could just wear one pair of shoes that did both tasks?

The duality of this show was fascinating. I loved it when Simons hacked up old Dior silhouettes, running his shears through the seams until sweetheart necked Dior cocktail dresses expanded around quilted satin underpinnings. Maybe he was thinking about those enraged onlookers ripping apart Dior’s originals? Flounced scarves looked like dresses chopped in half and wrapped around the neck, over slick suits.

Slick. That was the word.

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A Dior dress with open seams and embroidery

If Simons’ last Dior ready-to-wear show implied a sense of travel, or of ideas still in transit, they appeared to have reached their destination in this show. The destination is here, and now. Where these clothes resolutely belong. Fashion has a duty to be a testament to its time. This was a bold, brave, confident and convincing proposal.

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