Tag Archives: Raf Simons

Raf Simons, 2004

“Life is, in itself and forever, shipwreck”

Before Simons did sneakers for Adidas. Before he did suits for luncheons for Dior. Before Raf Simons stopped having diverse castings. Before he was name-dropped in rap songs. Before he was fashion celebrity elite. Before all that he was doing some of the best collections of his career. There was a string of them, all tremendous and all even more so years later. Within the time he relaunched himself in 2001 to when he took on design duties at Jil Sander in 2006 sits a considerable body of work that stands today as one of the greatest dissertations on menswear of the last 30 years. One collection that feels especially worth revisiting is Autumn/Winter 2004-2005. Now as performance wear has entered not only the common lexicon of everyday dress but fashion as well, now as youth subcultures have gone mainstream, Simons’s ideas come full circle. Avant-garde in the truest sense, the collection could  be shown and retailed today and it would still give most designers something to ponder. Some call it his “surf” collection, inspired by the technical wetsuits of surfers as well as their more casual non-sporty dress: tailored jacket worn over a neoprene body suit, hoodies worn as dramatic capes. In a world of cyber terrorism and technology attached to the very core of our daily experiences, it’s as if Simons recast the surfer as modern shaman. The effect is almost spiritual, monkish, a fitting follow-up to his abstraction of Hare Krishna and south Asian spiritualism the season prior. Ten years after the fact you wouldn’t mind if some of these ideas could be made viable again, by him or anyone else.

Editor’s note: I’m not privy to  the original soundtrack but I like to pretend it could have been Orbital’s remix of Angelo Badalamenti’s theme from the movie “The Beach.” Try it for your own enjoyment. 

Dior And I: A Movie Review

Dior and I, a new documentary by Frédéric Tcheng, debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival last night. The film follows Christian Dior creative director Raf Simons as he puts together and shows his first collection for the legendary couture house. Tcheng presents Simons and his experience as a conversation with the house’s namesake, juxtaposing his intimate and candid footage of Simons and his team with clips of the legendary designer and excerpts from Dior’s 1957 autobiography Christian Dior and I.

Published just two months before his death Christian Dior and I is filled with Dior’s meditations and confessions about his career, his maison, and his legacy as a fashion designer. Regarding himself in the third person, Dior addresses “Christian Dior” the couturier as a separate entity, a being independent of his real self that threatens to usurp his identity and trap him with the impossible expectations of his talent and fame. In 1947, just two years after World War II ended, Dior revitalized French haute couture with the New Look; a highly constructed and overtly feminine silhouette that reestablished Paris’s international influence and helped to define the dress code for the next decade. It is said that Dior’s immense impact haunted him, taunting him to exceed his initial success and constantly revolutionize fashion with each coming season. Ten years after he founded his maison Dior died of a heart attack, apparently brought on by increasing amounts of stress.

Tcheng observes Simons and his own struggles managing the larger than life myth of Christian Dior, though in 2014 it’s a much different relationship. While Dior’s maison was a juggernaut business that at the time of his death included a myriad of accessory and perfume licenses as well as a pret-a-porter collection, it was a far cry from the gargantuan size it would balloon up to nearly 60 years later through the management and support of luxury kingpin Bernard Arnault and his behemoth conglomerate LVMH. And while the pressures for Dior’s first successor, a 21-year-old Yves Saint Laurent, must have surely been great as he emerged from the shadow and into the spotlight after his mentor’s death, they pale in comparison to the global empire and vast product lines Simons is now responsible for — his first test being the flagship haute couture collection in which resides the brand’s last remaining connection to its history and heritage.

How Raf gets along designing haute couture for the first time while balancing his duties as the mega brand’s frontman is something anyone interested in the legacy of Dior or the talent of Raf Simons should watch for themselves. But as it is revealed by Tcheng, and as it is unfolds in the context of Christian Dior the man and Christian Dior the legend, it makes for a rather poignant and dramatically beautiful elucidation of the truths of fashion myth and how they must be reconciled for modern machinations, contemporary commerce and an ever-present past.

Raf Simons, 2004

“May The Circle Be Unbroken”, Raf Simons’s S/S 2004 collection inspired by Herman Hesse.

“You have observed correctly. I am wearing the clothes of a rich man. I am wearing them because I have been a rich man, and I am wearing my hair like the men of the world and fashion because I have been one of them.”

– from Siddhartha

Christian Dior, Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2013: An Internet Review

Haute Couture represents the highest echelon of clothes making in the Western tradition. As it has once been explained, haute means “high” or “superior” and couture means “clothes” or sometimes regarded as “sewing,” and so the term simply refers to the best of the craft. As an enterprise it was formalized in Paris in 1868 by Charles Fredrick Worth and until the mid-1960’s it not only represented the highest levels of technical ability but also conceptual. Until the 1960s haute couture dictated the trends and shifts in Western women’s fashion, it was solely responsible for determining how women dressed until youth culture and a prevalent and widely observed street culture usurped its eminence and influence and fashion leadership shifted towards the domain of ready-to-wear.

Today couture faces an ongoing struggle to maintain its vitality. As a business it has dwindled due to increased labor and material costs making turning a profit an aloof goal. Modern lifestyles have outmoded what was essentially a glorified client/dressmaker relationship of the days of yore and the customer base of not only those who can afford it but care to buy it has shrunk exponentially over the last few decades. It exists in our hearts and minds as a memetic abstract derived from our outdated memories of what it once was. From the golden age of Dior and Balenciaga to its last significant revival in the ‘80s, the decade of excess when Lacroix and Ungaro reigned supreme, it has become synonymous with larger than life gowns, wedding dresses for heiresses, and red carpet looks for Hollywood’s elite. In our enthusiasm for its hyperbolic glamour we have lost sight that Cristobal Balenciaga did his business with navy day suits or that Coco Chanel revolutionized the trade with modest jersey dresses.

There are only a handful of couture houses that function at a capacity anywhere close to where the industry was just less than a century ago when a single house among dozens would employ a workroom of hundreds. Perhaps the most prestigious and high functioning couture house, after Chanel, is Christian Dior who’s creative director Raf Simons just showed his third haute couture collection for the house on Monday.

The collection is said to have been inspired by various global perspectives from four continents and the idea of interpreting Dior through their different lenses. His was a more abstract and possibly intellectualized take on an exercise that his predecessor had practically invented. In fact John Galliano’s debut for the house in 1997 was a spirited and wondrous homage to the Masai, the African tribe known for their vibrant and detailed personal ornamentation and textiles that Simons also made reference to in this recent globetrotting adventure. All around the world Simons applied an idea of Dior that he has cultivated over the last several seasons; mixing it and juxtaposing it with various ethnic costumes, as if to find some kind of synergy between them all – a poetic if not artful statement about a famously French  house flanked by a shrinking  global culture. The result was, as far as one could observe online, a pastiche of color, fabric, texture, form and symbols. The ethnic references were far less on the nose than anything Galliano did which, though seemingly more ideal for the current mood and climate, muddled his intentions given the vast amounts of information in the collection. The sequence of looks, each with little connection to the other beyond a great taste for turbid color schemes and embellishment, could leave one confounded. And at the collection’s most ethnic moments, perhaps in a deconstructed peekaboo dress or in a kimono sleeved coat, it seemed to rely more on recent innovations in contemporary fashion rather than an earnest investigation of how the dress and costume in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas could actually inform. And this is in spite of a  precedence for this manner of research that has long been established by designers like Issey Miyake and Bonnie Cashin who appropriated ideas like layering, wrapping and the kimono cut and championed them for their innate universal appeal rather than the mere suggestion of worldliness they might offer after pasted onto a couture carapace.

Simons has received praise with this collection for modernizing couture; this has also been said of his last two collections. But what does modern couture mean? Is this referring to modernizing the craft aesthetically or contextually? Certainly Simons has brought a sea change to how couture garments are viewed and what is expected of them visually. The idea that a proper couture dress must be an oversized ball gown has gone out the window, and thankfully so. Simons has embraced minimalism, wardrobe essentials, and clothes that are far more real in their circumstance than a dress that requires two assistants to hoist onto a runway. It speaks back to when couture was a vital industry that actually dressed people for life and not for photo ops and red carpet credits (though Jennifer Lawrence’s unfortunate fall on her way to accept her Oscar award seems to invalidate this appeal). And then again, Lagerfeld at Chanel has always been sure to avoid the traps of pageantry in favor of offering his clients a full and functional wardrobe, which they always seem to buy.  And there is of course Adeline Andre who has injected minimalism into couture years before the idea would come to fruition in the ‘90s. Dior’s new modern couture is a refreshing revelation for the house but it is only a personal one.

But then you wonder if Simons is modernizing couture via craft and technique. In an industry based on workmanship this would be an exciting prospect yet it is when considering craft that this collection faces its greatest challenges. Not long after hi-resolution photos of the show hit the internet did a blogger who goes by Mari J do a frank and up close study of the collection. The zoom-in shots of seams, details, and hems are revealing. Highlighted are what appears to be copious amounts of seam pucker, fabric buckling around the body, and on the inside lining of the dress that closed the show, a dressmaker’s chalk line left there for the world to see. This is startling when you consider that couture is prized on the fact that the inside is as beautiful as the outside. Seam pucker is a typical issue in construction and is usually due to the tension of the stitch being greater than the fabric causing the seam, once sewn, to scrunch up. It’s a sure sign of rushed sewing. Many of the finishings Mari J highlights, which we can assume are all done by hand, are inadequate in controlling the fabric and shaping it to the specifications of the design. The fabric is resisting the way it’s been cut and sewn and so it buckles around the body causing the contortions and in many parts, especially in the sleeves, a bad fit. In Mari J’s highlights this can be observed in everything from the hems to the darts to the shoulders seams. In garments that Mari J does not focus on there are just as many issues and what is observed is an overall lack of knowledge of fabrics and garment construction, the two most important skillsets of the couturier. These issues force the question of how valid any of Simons ideas are when they are not being executed with the standards that define the genre he is working in. If haute couture truly is “superior sewing” then what is this collection? And can one truly modernize couture if they are not earnestly designing it?

The Couture Trilogy

For three seasons Raf Simons at Jil Sander has indulged his own couture fantasies that would normally seem worlds away from the universe he has cultivated at his eponymous label and at Jil Sander. A strange exploration of bourgeois, old world and misogynistic codes of mid-century womanhood, removed only slightly from their typically dreadful context (one can only shudder at the word “ladylike” as a serious adjective to describe contemporary fashion), the very antithesis to the street inspired men’s wear that Simons had begun with and the triumphant feminism that Sander had so well defined. It was Simons’ “couture trilogy” which at its best managed to simultaneously shift our ideas on minimalism and maximalism, rarefied tradition and bright bold futurism, archaic sexism and modern feminism, tearing apart our notions of these binaries, switching them and swapping them, replaced with a not totally new (it can be argued that Isaac Mizrahi did much of the leg work years before) but still a very updated key in which to decode these ideas for right now.

That it would all happen under the banner of Jil Sander is both curious and telling; a candid sign of Simons’ tendency for transgression and his ability to summon a world of his own in the most unexpected circumstances. Simons’ “couture” efforts have been uncanny, as beautiful as they are startling, proving Simons’ prowess as a women’s wear designer and his ablity to put forth a new attitude towards histories and legacies, grandeur and glamour and modern feminity–to create a vital and relevant context for it all to exist together today. He is adept, he is masterful. And apparently, according to this morning’s WWD, Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey, in their consideration of Christian Dior’s successor, think so, too.

Raf Simons, 1995

Boys, not men — menswear completely beyond the motivations of a Bruce Weber/Herb Ritts fantasy. Raf Simons’ first menswear collection was also one of the first men’s fashion collections to suggest an alternative to the ostentatious, aesthetically insensitive, athletically obtuse, and inflated masculinity that defined men’s fashion in the previous decade. Reality was the motivation and Simons was inspired by the fellows he knew and saw on the street — an outsiders’s perspective and a youthful angst echoed in bands like New Order and The Manic Street Preachers, very different heroes from sports stars and hollywood heartthrobs. So real and personal was Simons’s vision that it was in fact subersive in a world of shiny plastic shells of men.