Considering that Christian Dior’s most recent financial results showed a 13.4% sales rise to €747m (£560m), in the first six months of last year, we may assume that the designer Raf Simons had free rein to show Monday’s haute couture collection in any Paris venue he chose.
So it is worth taking a moment to consider why he chose to erect an indoor building site – a freshly painted, plushly carpeted one – in the garden of a shuttered 18th-century museum in central Paris.
Since arriving at Dior in 2012, Simons has been on a mission to make the historic house relevant and contemporary. This show venue was a very New Dior conceit, paying respect to the rich history of Paris – and then immediately deconstructing it. Arriving at the gates of the Musée Rodin, currently closed for refurbishment, guests first of all had to navigate the security gates that are a new and sober fixture on the Paris fashion week scene. (In an attempt to maintain standards of glamour, Dior had replaced the grey plastic trays in which handbags are placed to be screened with pristine white boxes.)
Once cleared, guests walked through the shell of the museum – elegant but tired, with the parquet under wraps and the tall windows shuttered – and along the gravel paths to the end of the long formal gardens, where a giant white box was marked, simply, “Dior”. Inside, the venue revealed itself to be a spiral of glossy white scaffolding, with a catwalk snaking upwards in circles, carpeted in soft pink and walled with mirrors.
A utopian construction site, in the grounds of a historic museum which will soon be refurbished and reborn: that, right there, was the key brand message of this haute couture show.
The Dior woman, says Simons, is both “exquisitely decorated and disruptive”. The clothes were a mischievous layering of past and present: not simply nostalgic or straightforwardly futuristic, but rather a 1960s vision of the 21st century.
Transparent plastic rain macs were self-consciously sci-fi, but cut with a retro, swingy line and demure bracelet-length sleeves. A tattoo-printed long-sleeved mesh bodysuit worn under a short-sleeved shift gave a double-take-worthy effect, as if a prim young 1950s wife was sporting two full sleeves of tattoos.
This was a world where not even a ponytail – that simplest, most girlish of hairstyles – was what it seemed.
Look closely, and you noticed that the hair on the models’ scalps ended where it wrapped around the top of a small metal ring suspended from the back of their heads, while the hair hanging down their backs was an entirely separate portion of fake hair, attached to the bottom of the metal ring. It seemed a neat joke about how the level of beauty and elegance achieved on the haute couture catwalks requires from the viewer a suspension of disbelief.
“Periods of time are conflated,” Simons explained of the collection. He berated himself for having previously been guilty of “always thinking of the future … I was always anti-romanticising the past. But the past can be beautiful too. There is a sense of the romance of the 50s, with the experimentation of the 60s and the liberation of the 70sin the collection.”
David Bowie’s swooping Moonage Daydream played on the soundtrack, and a series of sequinned and striped catsuits referenced the Yansai Yamamoto outfits that Bowie wore on his 1973 Aladdin Sane tour, seen in the 2013 VA exhibition.
The boldness of the fashion message was echoed in what was notably absent from a collection beamed around the world just as actors and stylists are starting to pick out dresses for Oscar night. Three strapless, full-skirted gowns were the only classic eveningwear pieces in a 55-piece lineup of knitted all-in-ones, full-length latex boots and psychedelic stripes. This was cutting edge, not comfort zone.