Cruise 2015: Plain sailing from Raf Simons’ Dior

Alexander Fury
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The mirrored set of the Dior Cruise 2015 show, in New York

It’s odd seeing a Dior show in New York. Namely, because it all feels so very Parisian. Actually, it’s not Parisian per se - a word that conjures up images of chi chi little pied-de-poule suits and veiled hats, baguettes, breton stripes, clipped poodles, that ooh-la-la Francophile shtick – but reminiscent of the Dior we see in Paris.

There was the same stripped-back set, this time an expanse of white catwalk and a metallic mirrored backdrop reflecting the scene like an idealised Hudson River. We were watching Cruise, after all. The real Hudson was more Dior grey than mirror, in reality, but even that fitted the identity of the house.

In itself, that idea of “identity” is a very American notion. And very much a notion of Dior in America. A year after opening his Parisian couture maison, Monsieur Dior established a New York branch to create ready-to-wear looks stamped with the Dior identity but specially adapted for the US market. The founder also licensed his name in the states in the early 1950s, for gloves, handbags, hosiery, and lingerie. America helped make Dior’s fortune, and not just in terms of cold hard commerce. Carmel Snow of American Harper’s Bazaar baptised his 1947 line the New Look; the cover of Time magazine catapulting him to the position of fourth most famous man in the world in the same year.

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A fitted bodice and scarf-influenced skirt from Dior's cruise 2015 collection

However, it was also the arena of greatest resistance to the changes he wrought. Dior’s clothing sparked protest, most evidently the founding of the “Little Below The Knee” club, who rallied and raged against his aesthetic. When Dior visited the USA for the first time in September 1947, phalanxes of women met him with placards declaring “Monsieur Dior, We Abhor Dresses To The Floor” as others waltzed in his fairytale ball gowns.

So, choosing New York as the locale for Dior’s Cruise collection – the kick-off for the entire 2015 season, as it happens – was charged. Interestingly, Raf Simons mentioned before the show that he was conscious of the commercial roots to the Cruise collection, the reality to it. But that’s been a motivating factor behind his work at Dior. After getting to grips with the fantasy inherent to Dior’s history – I didn’t call those ball gowns “fairytale” out of laziness – Simons now wants to bring it to the streets.

I could blather about “bubble up” and Yves Saint Laurent’s street-inspired Beat collection. But that didn’t seem to factor into what Simons’ did. He isn’t so much interested in drawing from what women are actually wearing on the streets so much as proposing something new for them. Ironically, given that mirror facade, he doesn’t want to reflect reality, but to create it anew.

There was a new feeling to this Dior: Simons talked of waists beings defined, delineated rather then corseted in the house tradition of the waspie-waisted Bar (Dior licensed lingerie because he knew women needed plenty of it to shape his silhouettes. Savvy).

The main motif was the carré, the silk scarf. Another licensed product – although Monsieur Dior also sketched one-off scarves for his treasured high-profile (and high-spending) haute couture clients: there is one bearing an Impressionistic portrait of Princess Margaret in the collection of Kensington palace. Simons brushed his equivalents with pigment in a similar style, overlaying them like petals into fluttering dresses, or working a fluid drape into floor-grazing columns of crepe. They knotted around wrists and the ankles of shoes. Jackets were cut square, either entirely or at the lapels to fall open slightly.

Those squares also linked back to flags, the memorable inspiration for Simons’ winter 2013 haute couture collection, one section of which was also an ode to the crisp, bandbox chic of America. The American woman was also an idea Simons wanted to express. The cleanliness of line and lack of overt embellishment is something we tag as quintessentially American, so too the ease and practicality, the sportswear feel. More overtly, there was a sense of craft: Simons used macrame, and some of that overlaying of scarf-on-scarf gave a sense of traditional American patchworked comforters. But very chic ones.

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A column dress with painted silk drape, from Dior Cruise 2015

Simons himself allied this collection’s fluidity to the Dior Cruise 2014 collection he presented last summer in Monaco, but these felt more like realised garments than the zip-bisected dresses he showed then. They were less weighed down – pun intended – with the cruisey allusions of the season. There was an engaging buoyancy. Sometimes, they formed silhouettes reminiscent of Dior’s past, but animated into constant rippling motion. Airy. Those were the most striking of the outfits Simons showed.

There was also an engagement with the very purpose of Cruise – not the nautique thing that distracts many a designer, although Dior did rebrand a fleet of ferries to chug us from shore to shore – but to sell. Maybe that was practical as much as idealogical: whereas other designers show four collections a year, Simons shows five for Dior, and two under his own label.

Nevertheless, there was an unabashed acknowledgement of the purposes not just of the pre-collection (which figures generally put at comprising 70-85% of design houses’ sales figures), but of clothing in general: to end up on somebody’s back. For all his fantasy, Monsieur Dior knew his clientele. He made the world look new, not just his cabin models. Raf Simons’ most recent Dior collections have shown a similar aim. That’s not to say this collection wasn’t packed with new ideas, but they were presented with an engaging simplicity and directness. Despite the thought, it wasn’t over-wrought.

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