“They have no fear.” Raf Simons referred to the women of his atelier “and men, too,” while sitting in his curtained-off backstage mini salon.
The conversation came in response to a question about his development as a couturier. “All of these people we work with are so inspiring,” he said. “They challenge me as much as I challenge them.”
Himself not known to cower in fashion’s safety zones, Simons’ acknowledgment of the atelier was both gracious and accurate. For fall, the mutual challenge converged into a feast of bravado and skill, a dizzying snapshot of why the couture genre matters.
Simons is a thinking designer, more intellectual than emotional. But that doesn’t mean he can’t layer a fantasy concoction onto a base of guipure. Recently, he has challenged his own biases by exploring retro, breaking down elements of various eras and seeking to reinvent them. Here he worked a midcentury triptych. He studied specific sartorial references as well as more amorphous auras of three decades, drawing on Fifties’ romance, Sixties’ experimentation and the wild freedom of the Seventies. He funneled all through his modernist eye and the bastions of imagination realized that are the Dior ateliers.
The powerful results awed and charmed simultaneously, and sometimes confounded. They also struck a hallelujah chorus of revival; fashion daring is not dead — it just fell dormant during the endless, early winter of pre-fall.
The decades of Simons’ focus were vastly different culturally, their prevailing fashions reflective of those swings. In conversation, he invoked the names of Miyake and Paco Rabanne, while noting the elegance of Dior’s Marc Bohan, yet wondering what the more experimental Mr. Dior might have produced had he lived and worked longer. But Simons never wallowed in historical accuracy. Rather, he celebrated what compels him about each decade, cherry-picking, mixing, distorting, magnifying the dissonance into a collection as captivating in its variety as in its execution.
Thus, the catwalk (or, more accurately, the trippy, tiered white metal scaffolding built atop plush pink carpeting reflected every which way by a mirrored ceiling) featured deb-worthy party dresses, Space-Age shifts, plastic-fantastic printed coats and psychedelic catsuits that delighted or dismayed, depending upon the viewer’s flash threshold for high optics. The embroideries, the fabric mélanges, the plastic prints were executed to complex perfection, texture upon texture, surfaces complementing or clashing on a case-by-case basis. Among the many stunners: pleated, embroidered ribbon dresses, plastic coats over intensely embroidered guipure dresses, the occasional shock of simplicity, as in a short green wool coat with only a single vertical strip of silver decoration. Everything was shown with second-skin stretch boots. Whether short, thigh-high, black or bright, these grounded the flamboyance while shooting a dose of subversion into the lineup’s more overtly romantic moments.
Along the way, the retro receded into a treatise on modern chic.