Raf Simons on Couture, and More

Published July 3, 2012

“Flower Women” was how Christian Dior referred to his New Looksilhouette, and Raf Simons’s first collection as Creative Director atDior was inspired by those hourglass shapes from the 1950s. But hisflower women are the modern kind, and they like pants.

They also like black. Simons took Christian Dior’s DNA down to the brass tacks, opening the show with two great curvy jackets over pants in stark black, and continued with more black in a wrap coat and dress with waists cinched in gold. He “shifted” Dior’s trademark “Bar” jacket into a black wool tuxedo dress, but that was only the beginning. For ladies who prefer pants, Simons took ballgowns—floral embroidery and all—and shrunk them into off-the-shoulder tops over black pants. The effect was kind of miraculous—those itty-bitty Barbie concoctions resting atop towering tailored black legs; a showdown of feminine fantasy and reality.

And after that opener, Simons was in his stride, shaping mink and astrakhan into tailored dresses—a few times in electric blue— and topping one ball skirt with a transparent stocking knit top in matching hot mimosa. Extra thick clusters of beading on peplums and skirts had an eerie living shimmer to them, and there was something delicate, but a bit wild, about the evening dresses with skirts circled in pale feather stripes. “Mr. Dior was a supreme architect of pattern,” says Simons. “He could construct something perfect, and yet he would often throw in a gesture on purpose to break that perfection. He would make what he did human for the wearer. You could tell he loved women in that way.” Obviously, Simons concurs.

Giant Swarovski crystals outlining the curves on an hourglass stocking dress illustrated Alexis Mabille’s muse this season, a jewel-like woman who flits like a firefly from bias-cut silk velvet to curvy mixtures of stretch sequins, transparent tulle, and arabesque embroidery. This was all very frothy and light; fairy clothes which look as though they were put together in the blink of an eye.

Bouchra Jarrar is a master of lean, linear elegance immersed in daytime clothes, which means she really has clients. This season, she dropped her signature fine-line piping and striped fabric and color mixtures for a fusion of bias draping and trench detailing. Jarrar took trench collars, belts, yokes, and epaulettes and eased them into bias, feminine shapes for a coat/dress mix of tailoring and flare. She finally ended up with a true trench—in classic beige, but with a cinched waist and full skirt that was all girl. After that, Jarrar kept her bias draping in check with the addition of black patent belts.

Atelier Versace returned to the runway and the Ritz this season with a couture collection inspired by “deconstruction and reconstruction,” in this case involving jagged patches of silicone, pearl, and crystal mesh, lashed together with embroidery. Red cued shiny strips and prints taken from tarot cards formed hourglass cage-like bustiers with frothy tulle skirts in celestial pastels. And it was all sweetness and light up until the final number worn by Donatella Versace herself: a shiny black cage tube, more super-vixen than airy-fairy and the strongest piece in the show.