Rich leafy greens, earthy textures, and dress surfaces like a flock of bird feathers… The Dior couture show was indeed the “Garden of Earthly Delights” that designer Raf Simons had intended. Midsummer sunshine turned into an artwork the exquisitely painted transparent tent, centred in the gardens of the Musée Rodin.
The Hieronymus Bosch triptych of Adam and Eve and its terrors of eternal damnation might seem a doubtful lure for an haute couture client. Yet taking a single, wide sleeve from Flemish painting and using it as a one-arm cover had a powerful effect as the models clutched it to their bodies.
This Dior Autumn/Winter couture collection saw Simons reaching further and deeper into his knowledge of history, from ancient to modern.
“I came from Antwerp, I studied Flemish art — my challenge was to make the heavy lighter,” said Raf backstage, as models fanned themselves and the designer greeted celebrities, from Lupita Nyong’o to Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.
Simons referred to influences from the architecture of the past, which inspired a luxurious amount of fabric in the clothing. His challenge was to bring all that into the 21st century — starting with the idea of dragging historical robes into an airy coat for today.
Some pieces were sensational, particularly when caught in the sunlight through the painted tent. A dress would parade by, with triangular long sleeves, a swooshing skirt and the surface dappled with the tiniest feathers — the handwork of Dior’s incomparable petites mains. Or there might be a pale wool coat, the colour like faded Delft china, with just one thick, wide, fur sleeve.
Having seen “Dior and I”, the behind-the-scenes movie by Frédéric Tcheng, I was sensitive to the idea that because Raf himself does not sketch, there must have been an exceptional complicity between designer and handworker. Between them they would have envisaged and produced a regular tailored jacket but with a dense and delicate surface.
Sometimes the meld of grandeur and body-conscious clothing reached danger point, as when a dress was slit at both sides from waist to ankle. That idea looked better as the original mediaeval tabard. But chain mail was effective as a metallic vest slipped over simple pieces. Throughout, the jewellery spoke of the military, as a ball and chain dangled over a waft of a white dress.
The most impressive thing about Raf’s approach is his daring. Here is a house with a famous legacy, but the Belgian designer always wants to take it somewhere else.
The design duo at Valentino may have seeded the concept of the long-sleeved, floor-length dress. But Raf did this look with both bravado and elegance.
I would have liked to edit the show — as the clients will — pulling out the plums. But the fruit of the Raf Simons imagination gave a fine taste to this Dior collection.