Paris Fashion Week: Raf Simons blossoms in the dark to lead Dior down a gorgeous garden path

Alien vines wrap wrists and shoes sprout roots in Paris Fashion Week’s biggest show thus far

Paris

Maybe it’s something in the word “spring” that sets designers off down the garden path, with its insinuations of new life, fresh growth, and flowers. Lots of flowers.

Couple that with the heritage of the house of Dior – whose “New Look” was actually named “Corolle” because the spreading skirts resembled a corolla of unfurling petals – and Raf Simons’s foliage-bedecked show is somewhat inevitable. Christian Dior wanted to design for flower women. That’s what Simons paid homage to yesterday, in the biggest show thus far of Paris Fashion Week spring/summer 2014.

Simons pontificated somewhat in the hefty pamphlet of notes weighing down each seat, cleaving the collection into three – Traveler, Transformer and Transporter. That was a bit confusing. Really, what Simons’ collections at Dior are really about is translation, the translation of Dior’s mid-century couture into the 21st century.

He did an admirable job. Although the opening looks, plissé culottes splashed with prints, cinched by neat little jackets, failed to ignite the imagination, you got excited when Simons allowed his imagination to blossom.

This show was difficult, tricksy, outfits combining clashing textures and prints. Garments wrestled with each other across the models’ bodies, floral embroideries, silk cloqué and accordion pleats jumbled together like an overgrown herbaceous border.

Shoes sprouted roots that wrapped the ankle, beaded jewellery oozed live vines around wrists and necks. There was something poisonous and alien about them, a new mutation of Dior’s flower-women.

They reminded you not of roses or tulips, but of carnivorous rainforest plants, Venus flytraps, especially when translucent puffball skirts seemed to half-consume the models. Ferns fatales? Perhaps.

The darkness was intriguing. It was frightening. It felt new – which is a mark of really good fashion.

There was also plenty to inspire women to part with cold hard cash, like those strapped stilettos, an intriguing half-dozen twisty-turny shirt-dresses, or evening gowns scrolled with glistening floral embroidery.

On some, you could discern a double-helix design, like a chromosome, cross-hatched in bugle-beads – a visual pun on that hackneyed press-release cliché of “House DNA”. That’s a neat detail for the press, and to satisfy Simons’ intellectual urges, but won’t spoil his client’s enjoyment of a beautiful dress.

There were a few moments of pure visual pleasure, like when Simons elongated the classic wool Dior jackets and gored open the back to insert floral silks, giving a bounce of movement. He did that for his own menswear line a year ago, but they looked fresh for her too.

In fact, that was the story of this collection. If, in the past, Simons has been weighted down by the romance and femininity of Dior’s heritage, this collection marked a true cross-pollination of his rigid modernist aesthetic with Dior. It wasn’t always a comfortable marriage, but it made compelling viewing.

A sequence of silver outfits sent out at the finale, referencing his 18 months at the house, felt like a full stop: “Here’s what I’ve done – now we’re on to the next chapter.”

As a statement from a major-league designer, that felt transgressive. And very exciting.

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