At a Christian Dior fashion show, its artistic director, Raf Simons, says it with flowers.
From his first collection for the house, the backdrop has been a florist’s dream, featuring everything from pink sweet peas to white lilies. For the spring/summer 2016 show in Paris on Friday afternoon, the venue inside the grounds of the Louvre was a structure covered with wild-looking delphiniums, reaching up to a sky almost the same shade of blue.
“For this collection I wanted to look at something rougher and more natural than the garden,” Simons’ statement in the show notes read. “At the same time, and just as in nature, I wanted to find a new kind of precision, purity and ease.”
The statement appeared to nod to both Simons’ minimalist approach, but also to the heritage of Christian Dior, who decorated the room of his first haute couture show in 1947 with delphiniums. In his third year of designing for Dior, Simons is stretching away from pure homage to a kind of fusion of his own design sensibilities and that of the house he represents.
The result is something that feels somehow futuristic, or slightly sci-fi in its vacuum-packed pristineness. The show notes compared the collection to something a woman might wear if she is “about to travel through space and time”.
To kit her out, Simons’ collection was one of simple shapes and clean lines. The first outfit was strikingly simple – a pair of scalloped white cotton bloomers and matching singlet, almost like a doll stripped to its undergarments. With a soundtrack of music with heavy basslines, the collection built up to include jackets embroidered with metallic flowers, cropped knits over fluid silk dresses, tailored trouser suits, parkas made from parachute silk, and more of that scalloping on pretty organza frocks.
Subtle branding came in necklaces reading 47 – representing 1947, the year the house presented its first collection – and belts with the clasp in the form of a ‘D’. While the signature bar jacket was reworked once again, this time most memorably as a knit, Simons’ own significant fanbase would have noted those parkas, nodding to an always present influence of youth culture in his work, even at this level of luxury.
There was also slightly ‘off’ details like patent shoes in the odd colour combination of black, white and brown, and trailing ribbons in models’ low ponytails. These jarring influences rubbing up against each other gave the collection the kind of tension that keeps a heritage house of Dior’s stature bang up to date, and relevant to front row stars here including Rihanna and Elizabeth Olsen, as well as London designer Christopher Kane.
Simons, who took his bow in a paint-splattered denim jacket, is within his rights to present a confident collection, one that lets his own tastes breathe. This tendency has increased during his tenure at the house, with Simons bringing an element of subversion into Dior’s walled garden, more traditionally the home of ladies who lunch. Esoteric ideas and references now abound. The idea of space and time has been in his collections since the couture show last year, which featured both astronaut suits and 18th century-style frock coats.
His most recent collection, for haute couture shown in July, referenced Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights triptych, while the spring/summer 2015 ready-to-wear brought the snap of SM on to the catwalk, in thigh-high PVC boots.
This has been a good year for the Belgian designer and Dior, the third since he moved from Jil Sander after seven years to replace John Galliano in 2012. Highlights include a cruise show in the futuristic location of Pierre Cardin’s bubble house in St Tropez, the announcement of Rihanna as the house’s first black campaign star, and the aptly named Dior I, the documentary telling the story of Simons’ first collection for Dior.
It has all fed into the now quantifiable Simons effect. Sales for Dior were up 23% at the end of June, with double-digit growth reported for the ready-to-wear that Simons designs. When most couture houses make most of their profit through accessories and cosmetics, this is the kind of news that would make Dior – and its parent company LVMH – very keen to hold on to the architect of their success.