Yesterday, in Paris, in front of the majestic Hôtel des Invalides, Raf Simons sent out his fall-winter 2013-2014 haute couture collection for the house of Dior. A fashion show of inner voyages, with a veritable world tour of inspirations.
There are four of them. Four archetypes of woman, four femininities, four cultures, four ways to imagine and to wear haute couture. One is from Europe, one from the Americas, a third from Africa, and the last Asia. A vision culled from geography and a voyage of opposites drawn from the world of couture and its clients. "I started by looking at the haute couture clients from different continents and different cultures, and their own personal style," explains Raf Simons. "The collection wasn't just about a Dior that's Parisian or French, but about a Dior confronted with the entire world, and how these fashion cultures can serve to influence both the house and me." For these clients, the exchange provides the basis for Raf Simons' creative process. Starting from that idea, he came up with the four women. They're four clients from different origins and cultures, and at the same time they're four modern women, meaning four woman who travel, who know the world, and know how to pick up on the various current influences that they find there. For each one, he dreamt up a wardrobe that would be both a Dior wardrobe par excellence and also the reflection of their own personality. It was in this way that Raf Simons envisaged the creation of each haute couture outfit, and it was through this same creative process that the whole collection came into being.
The woman from Asia can be recognized from the sense of balance between the purity of her silhouette and the architectural precision of the garment. Her coats of printed wool or bright red mink fasten like kimonos, like the simplest form of the double-breasted; her evening dresses appear as wide swathes of silk, but are fitted to the body through an ingenious use of folds. Other dresses refer to the traditional technique of shibori, the Japanese art that through the use of knotting and dyeing molds fabrics into three-dimensional conical motifs. While the woman from the Americas has a more nonchalant allure, she's audacious and doesn't hesitate in finishing off the sleeves of her blue cashmere coat with wide ecru ribbing. Her colors are a source of pride, and we can identify, from one look to the next, the blue, red, and white that, taken together, form the colors of the US flag. One outfit with stripes, another with feather stars, combined they contain the components of the flag's iconic Stars and Stripes .
The woman from Europe has dash and flair. She can be recognized from her Bar silhouette, inspired by the tailored jacket by Christian Dior in 1947, which whittles the waist and accentuates the hips with its peplums. She carries off masculine fabrics with aplomb, appropriating them with re-embroidered motifs, in the way a real Parisienne knows how to work a tone-on-tone effect to perfection. The African woman is a queen, expressing her freedom. Her evening dresses are draped with ease, playing on what they hide and reveal of the body beneath ; her embroidered silk coats seem made of wide open weaves; and her multicolored knits and embroidered tulles trace tribal tattoos on the skin.
Beyond their cultural differences, all four share the same vision and spirit: the one Raf Simons has breathed into the house of Dior. And so, throughout the course of the show, those codes so associated with the couturier Christian Dior kept appearing: feminine looks with masculine fabrics, the Jungle print that was inspired by his muse Mitzah Bricard and which proved to be, in the spirit of this collection, symbolic of travel in far-off lands. And, of course, there are the identifiers of the hand of Raf Simons: his colors employed in turn as all-over patterns or as bright flashes inside silk of darkest black, his layering of lengths and volumes, his playing with materials and surface shine, his asymmetries, constructions, lightness and depth.
This collection was a crossroad of cultures. It's the very quintessence of what haute couture is today: the meeting between tradition and modernity, the meeting between a house boasting exceptional savoir-faire, a client of today with a strongly developed personality, and a designer who knows how to take them toward the future.
"What I wanted above all else was to bring a real sense of reality to haute couture," Raf Simons concluded. He gave as good as his word.