A model presents a creation by Belgian designer Raf Simons as part of his Spring/Summer 2015 women's ready-to-wear collection / Reuters

Raf Simons energised elements from the past with a new, vibrant currency

In July, Raf Simons used his Dior haute couture show to make a statement about inventing the future by reinventing the past. He collaged together disparate costume elements from the here and now with the then and there to create arresting, even alarming juxtapositions.

Simons evidently hadn't finished: he revisited the idea for his spring/summer 2015 ready-to-wear show. Call it a remix, scrambling as it did decades and references into new hybrid garments that allowed observers to scroll through centuries in a single glance.

Simons said his intention was to create something “modern,” but also to question what modern really means. It sounds odd to do so at Christian Dior, considering how it is viewed, namely as bastion of romance and old-school, old world femininity. Then again, Dior's “New Look” of 1947 wasn't so new, composed as it was of clothes inspired by the Belle Epoque heyday of Dior's mother and constructed using methods from the nineteenth century.

The new in Simons' looks came, he said, from the attitude. That's a quality that's ephemeral and difficult to nail down, but at Dior it was evoked through contrasts. An 18th century juste au corps was thrown over a pair of bermuda shorts, the swaggering sleeve of a robe a la Francaise transposed onto a neat suit, while those bubbly Dior dresses were sliced in half and worn with twisted bodices based on t-shirts. The opening exits - white pique cuffed and patched with silk jacquard, like fragments of the past breaking through - set the tone, of forward-thinking fashion energised with elements from the past. In turn, those elements were reactivated. There was nothing costume about those embroidered coats, although they were lifted piecemeal from three centuries hence. They were given a new, vibrant currency. The looks became new.


The thing that struck me most about this Dior show was the wealth of ideas. Nothing looked staid, and while everything referenced the past, it was in Simons' own words “not the 'modernised' look of the last decade.” Hence there was none of the retro redux (seventies, sixties, nor the fifties which so chime with Dior) on Raf Simons' catwalk. But at the same time, his rampage through the centuries felt a comment on just that trend amongst his fellow designers, a criticism of their laziness. Maybe that was unintentional.

Perhaps Simons' Dior was only a suggestion of another path, of a great swathe of fashion yet to be mined. Few, honestly, would have the tenacity of Simons in rooting out the details that could be applicable to 21st century wardrobe, like the elongated shirt-dresses like Enlightenment underwear, inset with lace, pin-tucked and embroidered, or the curvilinear bomber-jackets in micro-jacquard florals, the back drawn into tiny pleats and curved at the hem like court mantuas.

What other designer could make those feel relevant for today? What other designer could make that world look new?