Fresh take on a classic label as Dior's new boy Raf Simons brings flowers and finesse to the catwalk

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Critics applaud hotly anticipated Paris debut from Raf Simons

Paris Fashion Week

The walls of inter-connecting salons were dressed with no less than 300,000 flowers for Raf Simons' much anticipated debut collection for Christian Dior in Paris yesterday. Guest filed through a first filled with waxy white orchids, then a second entirely covered in sunshine yellow mimosa, on to vivid blue delphiniums, pink peonies, black dahlias and more. Like the house's namesake, Simons loves flowers and such freshness extended beyond the setting.

The tiniest jewelled buds were scattered across New-Look-line dresses; skirts echoed the shape of upturned lilies or soon to open tulips and the colours of the finest silks, furs and gazars were just as lovely as nature intended.

This was an extremely hopeful first outing, full of bright new ideas but respectful of this grand fashion name's heritage all the while. Tailoring was complex, standing away from the body to exaggerate the curves of the female form to which M Dior, likewise, was ardently attached. Discreet trompe l'oeil details – the lapel of a jacket disappearing into its body, for example – spoke more of Simons' own handwriting.

Embroidery was similarly subtle: picture a pair of perfectly cut, black, cigarette leg trousers worn with a jewel-encrusted bell top or a Klein blue bustier revealing the intricate workmanship the French ateliers are known and revered for as its train fluttered from behind.

Since Simons' appointment was formally announced in April, fashion insiders have speculated how this so-called "minimal" designer might interpret Dior's codes, steeped as they are in femininity and nostalgia.

But, the designer said, he is "a romantic person too" and that rang out loud and clear. Still, if haute couture is all about indulgence and a limitless budget, there was a restraint in evidence here that was both welcome and unusual. "I wasn't trying to make a story," Simons, pictured right, added. "I wanted the clothes to be linked to Christian Dior but to make them more dynamic." Add to the mix red mascara, streaks of silver on models' eyelids and an almost violently orange pout and that is what he achieved.

Since John Galliano's dismissal from Dior in March last year, following allegations of anti-Semitism and racism – he was later found guilty of both – Dior women's wear has been overseen by Bill Gaytten, responsible for care-taking the brand until Simons took to the helm. In a rather less bold manner, the former designer also took a mid-20th-century couture silhouette as the foundation to build upon and the result was a "big increase" in sales which leapt by 29 per cent to €284m during the first quarter of this year. Simons has a degree in industrial and furniture design but moved into fashion in the mid-Nineties launching a highly influential menswear line.

From 2005, he designed women's wear for Jil Sander before arriving at Dior. He is the label's sixth couturier. Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan and Gianfranco Ferre all also once presided over the house.

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