Dior Couture: The Swans of Spring

This is Raf Simons’s second couture collection for Dior, and it’s fascinating to see how, like an animal tamer, he has worked the house’s couture froth into his graphic form. Simons’s mix of transparent, pastel floral embroidery and defining black structure in twisted bustier dresses, Dior Bar jackets with tailored cigarette pants, bursts of searing yellow and orange, even the models’ boyish hair (an echo of Audrey Hepburn, Janet Leigh, or Jean Seberg), form a big, bold departure for Dior.

This might sound surprising if you’re looking at fashion from a ready-to-wear perspective, where anything and everything is possible as long as it produces a new look. Couture, on the contrary, still follows the long established tenants of haute luxury: the more opulence on display, the better. Classic couture is not subtle. It’s awe-inspiring in its dedication to dazzle and is often more formulaic than creative. By contrast, Raf Simons’s less-is-more for Dior is quietly devastating.

Couture bias silk, moiré, filmy transparence, and sumptuous embroidery in pastels are not left to flutter all over the place here. Instead, Simons shines an alluring slice of these ethereal lights across a full-skirted gown, or presents embroidery like a treasure within a transparent cocoon dress, or hides it slightly as the lining of a jacket. Almost every look is underlined, layered, and ultimately structured by black, a color associated today with the streets, tailoring and minimalism. And Simons loves pants. Dior’s Bar jacket, and embroidered bustiers with short, full skirts—like shrunken ballgowns—are paired with sharply tailored cigarette pants.  Both were in his first couture collection; a repeat which is starting to feel like a signature.

There is an innocence to these clothes, an elegant restraint which again pulls Dior away from flashy, red-carpet glitziness. In fact, the girls in the show looked like swans, with slick, short hair and the stylized flash of crystal red lips. But there is sexiness here, too—the sculptural hood-ornament kind with a mysterious quality reminiscent of John Singer Sargent’s Portrait of Madame X—only at Simons’s Dior, the plunging neckline is in flesh-tone silk.