Crawling in traffic this week past the Louvre, I glanced in several times at the hillock being constructed by Dior in the Cour Carrée, where in the age before Rihanna the Paris shows were held in modest tents with wooden floors. Thirty years on, I can still hear the trampling of feet on the boards — a sound that, to me, militantly anticipated great fashion. Now the mound would soon be covered with tens of thousands of blue and white delphiniums, but in the interim it resembled an art installation or a Jurassic pile of poo.
On the day of the show, I thought to press a delphinium in a book, in anticipation of what incredible things might bloom here in another 30 years. But in fact, we might just look back at 2015, and realize it was also a critical time, when fashion visionaries split into two camps: those who are obsessed with form, and those who focus on imagery.
Raf Simons is a member of the former group. I watched the Dior show backstage, among the dressers, models, hair and makeup artists, and one or two photographers. From here the models, shaking off their chatter and ignoring their burning feet, enter the runway. Dior had constructed a huge box, its interior gleaming white, with the flowery hillock seemingly crashing through one wall. I had never seen a Raf Simons Dior show from this vantage and I wanted as much to savor the hubbub — the luxury tycoon Bernard Arnault giddily greeting Rihanna, who wore Dior couture and a crown of curls — as to see the clothes up close.
I pressed myself against a temporary canvas wall, hoping I wouldn't crash through, and studied the girls. Around their necks were chokers with a flat metal ornament, like a cameo, the ribbon ends streaming down their backs. Their hair was late Jane Austen: middle-parted, pulled over the ears. Apart from some black tailored jackets and striped coats in café-au-lait satin, the clothes were mostly in white cotton batiste, a material once widely used for lingerie and nightgowns. A year ago, Simons introduced a cotton sack dress, seemingly based on a Victorian nightshirt, and it set off an unlikely trend. Now he was using the semi-sheer cotton to make simple, scallop-edged dresses, over matching shorts, or sleeveless tops worn with micro-pleated silk skirts. Some sheer styles had tiny stripes in black with a flurry of embroidered black dots near the hem. The other new component was a chunky raglan-sleeve sweater, cropped and delicately frayed at the edges, and layered over the dresses.
For the past year, Simons has more liberally plucked ideas from his haute couture shows, and recast them in ready-to-wear. For this show, sometimes he took just a gesture, like a slightly oversize, knee-length black dress with pleating that recalled the sleeveless coats from the July couture show.
Simons has grown at Dior but, more, the house has prospered from his extraordinary ability to give it a sense of direction. His last few collections have been more history-minded than ever before, and yet they hardly look nostalgic. They sparkle with rightness. And it’s not the heavy history dramas that his predecessor John Galliano often gave.
Coming out of the show, I ran into Ralph Toledano, a veteran fashion executive whose cousin, Sidney, is the president of Dior. He said, “There are designers who have a vision and those who don’t. You can see the difference. Those with vision have a project. This is Raf.”
Jonathan Anderson, the designer of Loewe, is the other type of visionary: He concentrates on effect and imagery. Both approaches are valid; and to be fair, Anderson works for an accessories-based brand that produces a lot of objects. His show on Saturday was loaded with new and tempting bags, bracelets whose tiny chains seemed to drip from the wrists, and fat brooches in the silhouettes of geese. But when I flipped through pictures of the show later, to remind myself of what I had seen, I saw very few clothes that were interesting. It was a mishmash: clear-plastic pants, dresses with fragments of mirrors or sprouting silver tinsel, cotton separates in a wallpaper logo print, like the backdrop of a photo-call booth on a celebrity red carpet.
And the chaos of the show was, in a way, its genius. Backstage, Anderson called it “an orgy of information,” and referred several times to the photographer Steven Meisel, who shoots Loewe’s campaigns. That a designer would so openly acknowledge the role of a photographer is admirable. But Meisel isn’t just any photographer. He’s one of the great image-makers of his time. And if this sometimes junky chaos of products is meant to approximate the jarring mood of the times, then Anderson and Meisel are surely on to something.
I would not count John Galliano out, by the way. His second Margiela collection is much better than his debut last season. The two dominant themes are a kind of broken-down couture — things deliberately made to look a touch imperfect — and workwear, mainly in the form of Japanese-inspired pants and jackets. Some of the best jackets are made of a creamy neoprene or dense cotton with a similar spongy feel, including one with a velvet leopard-print collar. Another great look is a beige cotton wrap skirt with cutout flowers, the petals flapping about and revealing peeks of a silver lamé lining.
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