I should have known, after his Dior cruise show in New York, Raf Simons mentioned in passing about potentially exploring the “fantastical” that he had something up his sleeve.
And so we got something fantastical for Dior’s latest couture A/W 14-5 show. A white drum of a set lit up like a space launchpad a la Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey, landed in the middle of the Musee Rodin, with mirrored walls entirely covered with white orchids (incredibly how flowers get Instagram peeps really hot under the collar). It was the perfect setting for Simons to confront and reflect upon the past to forge a new future.
It began with 18th century pannier dresses, curvaceous and bulbous but light as a feather seemingly as they circled around the set, exiting and entering from clinical sliding doors. Hang on a minute, didn’t Simons eschew heavy historics, deeming it not particular modern? Turns out he was questioning modernity and perhaps even turning back on himself by looking at the “far past” to eke out a new direction. “I wanted to deal with a form language that looks to be almost the opposite of my original inspiration at Dior,” said Simons in his press notes. “It was an idea of confronting what people now think is an aesthetic that is modern – it felt more modern to go to the far past, not the ‘modernised’ look of the last decade. The challenge was to bring the attitude of contemporary reality to something very historical.”
Therefore those pannier dresses didn’t look like they needed to be paraded around with Marie Antoinette wigs and beauty spots. They had pockets. They were aerated with new tulle structures. The 18th century original garment whispered but what shouted was how evocative (if not wholly practical) it looked.
What followed was seven more passages of similar historical deconstruction and recontextualisation. Flight suits and boiler suits at couture? Yup, they were an ode to wartime military gear except they were rendered in silk taffeta and embroidered with finesse. 1910s Edwardian coats were stripped of their frou frou ornamentation to leave just a long sinuous line in perfect outerwear. The under garments of 18th to 19th century got turned inside out so that bodices became skirts, again delicately embroidered. The court coats of the 18th century were rendered in a Fragonard palette but worn over Beat-esque black polonecks and trousers, which looked fresh in itself. To casually throw on an exquisite frock coat over something entirely pared back and dare I say “normcore” looking, seems to define a new direction in haute couture. The flapper dresses of the 1920s are re-imagined with new technique such as a shaggy form of resin punctuated fringe, dubbed “alien fur” by the atelier. Of course the Dior archives get a look-in too as the bar jacket gets elaborated on with exaggerated collars in the softest of cashmere. They looked easy too, and freed of the perceived rigour of Dior. Finally, we had pleated dresses, embroidered and decorated like an astronaut suiting. We were after all ready to lift off inside this Dior time continuum.
“The past holds the key to the future,” is what Simons seemed to be saying and frankly, the further back you go into the past, you remove yourself from the danger of being referential. How many designers after all have the balls to even attempt to reference those 18th century shapes, especially in this current climate of easy sportswear and simplified garments? It also points to the sort of short term memory that the fashion world has, that collections from only five years ago are rehashed and recycled. Going way further back almost feels like a new frontier. When the likes of Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano and Alexander McQueen did it, it certainly felt that way.
Today, Raf Simons handled the far past on his own terms and it paid off. None of the outfits felt weighted down with history and concept, despite the eight-part format of the show. People who are not remotely interested in fashion history need not have the lesson rammed down their throats. They could just sit back and admire the perfect long line coat, the pretty embroidered loose shift dress, the lovely frock coat and of course those dramatic bulbous gowns for extra wow factor and if they’re the lucky people who are clients – they’ll happily pull out their chequebook and order up their choice pieces for their cocktail parties and cotillion balls.
Oh, and speaking of the past, Simons may have sent us on an epic time travel experience for Dior Couture but soundtracking each section of the show with a different Sonic Youth song (Flower, Teen Age Riot, Screamking Skull and Into the Groovey to name a few) was exactly the grounding type of sound you needed to accompany this journey of looking backward to go forward. They’re songs of Simons’ personal past – and somehow made these garments of future past all the more real. Whatever that means today.