Dior Autumn-Winter 2015-2016 couture collection.
Much of fashion can be divided into one of two camps: those designers who make indulgent, exquisite dresses for rich women to rule society from within, and those designers who make interesting clothes which reflect on society from the outside.
This makes Raf Simons, creative director of Christian Dior, rather unusual. He makes exquisite dresses for rich women that are also interesting clothes with a sharp point of view.
The number of hours of craftsmanship that go into the extraordinary bespoke creations seen on the catwalks of Paris haute couture are often proudly recited by the fashion houses, but so dense is the backstory which goes into each Dior dress that it would make sense for this house to add thinking time to the list. A Dior haute couture label might read something like “250 hours of hand embroidery, 500 individually sewn-on feathers, 30 hours of pondering the mastery of craft versus the beauty of artistic gesture”.
The setting for Christian Dior’s latest haute couture catwalk show was a pointillist greenhouse in the garden of the Musée Rodin. A giant cube of perspex was hand-painted in a blur of soft lilacs and greens which glowed and shimmered in the light, like a summer dress in an impressionist painting.
But Simons’ take on florals had little to do with the simple allure of flowers: the setting represented, instead, Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych of the Garden of Earthly Delights. To base a fashion collection on a painting in which most of the figures are, famously, naked is a clear signal that this is not just about the clothes.
The show was both a celebration of beauty and a commentary on the fashion industry’s commodification of that beauty. “I was intrigued by the idea of forbidden fruit, and what that meant now,” Simons explained. “The idea of purity and innocence versus luxury and decadence and how that is encapsulated by the idea of Dior’s garden.” This garden, he went on to say, is “no longer a flower garden but a sexual one”.
The venue was not, said the designer, intended as a greenhouse but as a “modern, pointillist church”. This did not hold him back from a highly sexualised collection: floor-length tabards were open all down the side of the body, front and back, tethered only by ribbon.
Fan-shaped slices of plain, stiff black card were left on each seat, in a nod to the soaring temperatures beneath the mid-afternoon sun, but this was one of very few concessions to the minimalism with which Simons was once closely associated. Intricate pleating was glimpsed through sheer organza, glittering daisy chains of gold metal layered over handpainted silks, platform sandals heavily glittered, and a pink neoprene coat gloriously unbalanced by asymmetric swathes of rich tweed, and soft fur.
There were stiff bandeau gowns with gathered and smocked waists, and shoes laced almost to the knee. The inclusion, every five or six outfits, of the simple bold shapes for which Simons is best known – a super-wide-leg navy trouser under an oversized pea-green coat, for instance – only served to emphasise the lavishness of the gowns. Similarly, the models’ wavy, centre-parted hair and almost makeup-free faces threw the spectacular fashions into relief.
Intriguingly for two houses whose approach to their art is very different, Dior echoed the previous night’s Versace show in drawing on a medieval aesthetic – Game of Thrones, it seems, has a lot to answer for. But while Versace’s nymphs wore flower crowns and plunging corsets, Dior’s beauties were ethereal in floor-length white silk chiffon, or swathed in heavy wool and fur.
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