The parade of clothes across my laptop screen the last few days has begun to seem like one cascading wave. I haven’t had a chance to look at Sarah Burton’s Alexander McQueen show, and may not until later today (and yes, I realize, there may be other Examiners available to give you a summary and a few of the looks). But, as I look for the silhouettes, dominant shapes, and the suggestion of trends congealing and cohering on and off the runways, I’m beginning to reconsider the notions of legacy brand identity, their evolution, the possibilities for innovation, and how we collectively articulate styles that connect with the conditions of our lives.
Although I was going to give ‘equal time’ (screen space?) to Alexander Wang’s Balenciaga debut and Alber Elbaz’s ‘something-for-everyone’ Lanvin collection, it’s already evening in Paris. We’ve already moved past Stella McCartney, Giambattista Valli, and Saint Laurent, so there’s no reason to focus on anything but the best and most significant – and I don’t just mean for L.A. audiences.
That, so far, means Dior. Much was made in the initial reports coming out of Paris of the ‘memory’ dresses – which featured prints and embroideries taken from some of Andy Warhol’s 1950s fashion illustrations (e.g., I. Miller shoes; Harper’s Bazaar). But really the entire show is a kind of dialogue with ‘memory’ – both specifically with the House of Dior, and more generally with the culture at large. Raf Simons has picked up where he left off with the couture collection – re-examining the “Bar jacket,” for example, an overall A-line silhouette and, picking up a few others along the way, including the “Zémire” and other elements of Dior’s 1954 “H-line” collection – but all in fresh combinations and elegantly re-considered details. There’s a fresh cohesiveness to the look from one element to another: say, a slightly asymmetric charcoal jacket whose (Zémire?) collar is turned out into a ‘Basque’ scarf wrap, which is then picked up in the subtle drape and a kind of ruffle that opens over the asymmetrically divided skirt. (The effect is picked up again in a number of evening dresses, a few of them with Warhol illustrations at the ‘Basque sash’.)
Or consider the way he both pares down and shifts proportions slightly (lengthening the sleeves) in the ‘Bar jacket’ and pairs it with a pair of matching baggy pleated pants. I’ve never been too crazy about ‘palazzo’ pants or super-baggy pants (though I confess I’ve held onto a luxurious cashmere pair); but it seems to be part of a trend this season, and Simons seems to know how to make it work. It’s about line and movement and it’s beautiful to behold.
Elsewhere, the ‘assisted readymade’ line is further evolved – a swing coat in pale pink with white scarf-wrap closure paired with a sheer black asymmetric skirt; or still more dramatically in a gorgeous red A-line coat barely containing the ruffle of an undulating black taffeta skirt. (Kick pleats anyone?)
Simons had a field day with the houndstooth tweed so beloved by Dior playing with the very notion of weave, mesh, and graphic interlocking black and white – cutting out and overlapping pieces of fabric, juxtaposing contrasting weave patterns, minimizing the graphic black or white and elongating the silhouette, even pastiching a cable-stitch in a kind of knit lace laid over (what else?) houndstooth – hilarious and elegant. (How often can you say that?)
But as with so much of the rest of the collection, this, too, was about memory – about what is concealed and what revealed and the subtle interplay of the two – the way a bodice was wrapped into a skirt, then flared out into the drape or ruffle of skirt, revealing a flash of white or color, or sheer underskirt – which of course extends forward to the conversation with the body, its place in time, and how we design for it.
There were some misses, some oddities; and then a few things I just thought too obviously in sync with certain emerging trends. The one-shoulder blouse looks were not a success. I wondered a bit about the pants; also a short gray peacoat dress that I’d wear in a second, but thought might be simply of a piece with the baggy-wrap virus that seems to be going around. (More about this in another post.)
I sometimes wonder what it must be like for someone like Raf Simons, an amazingly thoughtful, analytic and original designer, to negotiate the double-helix of the Dior legacy, to preserve, but also re-define its ‘spirit,’ and reinvigorate it with ideas both new and old; and ultimately to resynthesize it into a vital style force and brand independent of its foundations. Between his own formidable design foundation and experience at the helm of Jil Sander, there was arguably no one more prepared to do just that. I can’t help but think that he must some day have his own house again.