A little bit of history repeating: something old makes something new, at Raf Simons’ Dior and Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel
The much-vaunted and oft-debated “point” of haute couture is tied up in history. Haute couture is living history, less a retrograde throwback and more a direct link to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The latter was when “haute couture” as a term was officially incorporated by Charles Frederick Worth, couturier to Empress Eugenie and most of her court; the former was when the idea of a fashion dictator was pioneered by the first celebrity dress designer, Marie Antoinette’s “Minister of Fashion” Rose Bertin. Those are some heavy antecedents, but they’re ones couturiers often bank on. Buying haute couture is a bit like buying a stake in a past you can never be part of.
The coupling of great clothes and a great show, where neither one outshines the other, is very rare. It’s all the more remarkable, then, that Raf Simons’ formula for his eponymous label seems such a sure-fire hit. I tried to think back to a Simons show that hasn’t worked, gloriously. Then I realised this was his business’ twentieth anniversary. I couldn’t think of a single instance.
There’s a trend right now for fashion houses to show the collections we still dub Cruise in far-flung locales. I’m writing this in the airport in Dubai, following Chanel’s show; a week ago Dior Cruise-ed to New York and chugged us from Manhattan to Brooklyn on a chic branded ferry; last summer, that house showed in Monaco, coincidentally the site of Louis Vuitton’s inaugural Cruise show this weekend.
It’s odd seeing a Dior show in New York. Namely, because it all feels so very Parisian. Actually, it’s Parisian per se – which 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.
I bet people wonder what fashion editors do during the “off season”: write dodgy novels, maybe? Shop? Painstakingly plan ensembles to be crated and shipped ready for the next round of shows, when said eds are released from their pen, like the rabid hounds that shred unwanted visitors to Mr Burns’ mansion in The Simpsons? Only fashion editors voraciously attack and devour garments, and sometimes designers, rather than intruders.
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 else. But Dior’s most famous fashion image is of la Tailleur Bar. It’s one of those house codes that Raf Simons has been fixated on since he began redesigning Dior in 2012. Hence the fact the Bar 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.
In less than 24 hours, we’ve had four very, very different interpretations of twenty-first century haute couture. How to reconcile the whimsy of Marco Zanini’s Schiaparelli debut with the hyper-modern aerated layers of Raf Simons’ go-faster Dior? How could you compare the cinched-in, souped-up sexuality of Donatella Versace’s Atelier ode to Grace Jones with Giambattista Valli’s embroidered, gazar-wrapped chocolate-box frocks? Couture is about contrasts. There’s aren’t that many customers out there left, so canny couture houses are appealing to niches with deep, deep pockets.
Watching the menswear shows online – as I have been doing over these opening four days of the autumn/winter 2014 Paris collections – is very different to observing them in flesh and fabric.
The third day of my Paris fashion week – the fourth overall – has just finished. Raf Simons showed his latest collection for Christian Dior this afternoon. The major editors are out in force. The week has truly begun.
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter