Raf Simons is often eerily prescient. He couldn’t have known that truculent protestors would derail half the British press travelling to Paris on the day of his spring/summer 2016 show, by setting a fire at the French mouth of the Eurostar tunnel. Yet somehow, it fits. Simons clothes are about unrest. I don’t mean they’re physically uncomfortable, but they do have a sense of unease about them, even if its just in the watching. For spring, trousers swamped skinny legs with excess fabric, bodies were smothered in oversized coats peppered with buckshots of eyelets, and faces all but concealed by hoods tugged tight, pulled all the way down, in the fashion banned by many suburban shopping centres to avoid anti-social behaviour.
You know what I like about the pre-collections? Not the travelling (I’m lazy), nor the dinners (I’m anti-social), definitely not the jet-lag, frequently not the clothes – they’re often simple-minded, and, generally most aren’t any good from a critical standpoint. What I like though is the time. The time to look at said clothes, to ponder them, frequently to turn them inside out. The fact you get to step off the increasingly frenzied fashion treadmill and actually spent a chunk of your day thinking about what you’ve seen, rather than rushing to the next.
It’s really difficult to get fashion on film right – because it means so much to the people who love it, and is worthless to those who loathe it. Nothing will change those points of view – not extolling the hours of work poured into intricate clothes, not bandying about awe-inspiring figures about fashion house turnovers, not filming seamstresses weeping with emotion as their work is showcased, or possibly ripped to pieces. I personally fall into the former camp, so no matter how much you question the worth versus the cost or roll your eyes with puritan disgust at the vanity of it all, I won’t be swayed.
Context does a lot for fashion. I’m not just talking about the world outside the tent, or salon, or wherever designers have positioned their gilt chairs for this season, but about what other designers are showing in their salon/garage/specially-erected plexiglass cube (depends on budget). Of course, part of the dance of fashion is solipsism. Or maybe megalomania. It’s rare you see designers at each others’ shows: Tim Blanks and the team of style.com were trying to interview Joseph Altuzarra, attending the Balenciaga show designed by his friend Alexander Wang, but were constantly interrupted by well-wishers. Most said something along the lines of “I didn’t expect to see you here!”
Rules are made to be broken. That’s what we’re all taught in our school days. Well, not so much taught, but you pick it up along the way. Raf Simons certainly has. For his autumn/winter 2015 collection, on the first day of Paris’ men’s shows, he once again latched onto youth, his eternal inspiration. Only this season, like the last, felt like it was Simons’ own misbegotten ways. And, in tune with the season as a whole, that necessitated a trip to the archive, and a flick through the garments that defined his aesthetic.
Raf Simons’ latest Dior collection marched out across the square dais of Tokyo’s Ryōgoku sumo hall – an arena more akin to fat men slogging it out in underpants than thin women trying to sell us expensive ones. This is Dior’s contribution to a season most of the world dubs pre-Fall – the no-man’s season that lies between spring/summer and autumn/winter.
How long will fashion journalists feel the need to explain that? Possibly a good while longer if houses continue to come up with inventive names to mask the issue they all seem to have with “pre”.
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.
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