With Raf Simons, functional fashion meets elegant couture at Dior
When the announcement of Raf Simons' elevation to artistic director of Dior came on Monday night, there was little surprise at the content, even if a few journalistic noses were put out of joint. It was Cathy Horyn, The New York Times's highly esteemed fashion editor, who scooped the rest of the pack on the story that has kept fashion followers on their well-shod toes for more than a year, and within seconds of the article going online, the Twittersphere was buzzing.
It made sense that Horyn was the chosen conduit here: the notoriously straight-talking journalist has long been a champion of Simons and lavished praise on his recent collections for Jil Sander, the fashion house from which he was reportedly fired in February. And, in fact, there are few dissenters: the reaction from pundits is overwhelmingly positive.
The French couture house, owned by LVMH, has been under the able stewardship of Bill Gaytten since its former artistic director, John Galliano, was sacked for anti-semitic remarks made in a Paris bar, and as Dior's leadership delayed on a decision and Gaytten's collections developed, there was a theory that he might be kept on in the role. (Gaytten was named creative director at John Galliano last June.) Other names linked with Dior included Marc Jacobs, who currently designs LVMH's Louis Vuitton, Haider Ackermann and Givenchy's Riccardo Tisci.
Dior's statement, released on Monday night, said: "Monsieur Dior's first collection radically changed the codes of elegance all over the world. Following the legacy of its founder, Raf Simons' journey with the house of Dior will propel its iconic style into the 21st century."
That is not hyperbole: the Belgian designer is much admired in the industry, and is something of an anomaly in the frenetic, ambitious world of fashion. He trained as a furniture designer but when he interned with the avant-garde fashion designer Walter Van Bierendonck, where he was introduced to the designers of the Antwerp movement (the likes of Dries Van Noten and Martin Margiela), he realised his future lay in fashion. The self-taught designer launched his eponymous menswear label in 1995, garnering acclaim for clothes that combine rigorous, uncompromising tailoring with elements of youth subcultures.
He began to design for Jil Sander in 2005, a perfect fit for her minimalist aesthetic, and indeed, however much admired his stark, innovative silhouettes and strong sense of colour were, no one until two seasons ago could have envisioned him at a classic Parisian house such as Dior.
Simons' last two collections, however, might easily have been considered auditions for this role. The silhouettes for both spring/summer 2012 and autumn/winter 2012/13 were midcentury in origin, echoing the full skirts and cinched waists of Christian Dior's original New Look, the 1947 collection that resonated right through to the 1950s.
Yet, this being Simons, there was none of the primness of that era, the costumery stiffness that Mad Men-style midcentury couture can involve. Both collections felt contemporary, relevant, fresh and grown-up, combining total wearability with relaxed elegance.
Perhaps Simons' biggest challenge will be to apply his highly functional approach to the rarefied world of couture, of which Dior is one of the greatest houses. His debut for Dior will be July's haute couture show, giving him just three months to master fashion's most exquisite, expensive and flamboyant art. Judging by previous form, though, he'll be just fine.
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