Karlie Kloss on Christian Dior's Autumn/Winter 2012 catwalk in March 2012
By far the most hotly anticipated show this Couture week is Raf Simons’ debut at the house of Christian Dior. Seven years ago he took over at Jil Sander, a Belgian designer with a cult following for his menswear, an education in industrial design, and no experience womenswear. He stepped into the shoes of the label’s founder and high priestess of minimalist luxury and, within a few seasons had emerged from her shadow into his own fashion limelight.
So, even though he has never designed a couture collection, no one underestimates his potential to make a major impact this week as creative head of one of France’s most famous couture houses. He was confirmed as ‘artistic director’ in April this year after more than a year of almost constant speculation about who would take over from the disgraced John Galliano. At the time he told the New York Times, "My aim is a very modern Dior, but at the end of the day, I also look back. I find that period between 1947 and 1957 extremely attractive, and there was a lot of modernity."
Simons (44) launched his eponymous menswear collection in Antwerp in 1995, the city that produced other uncompromising modernists such as Martin Margiela, Ann Demeulemeester and Dries Van Noten. He gathered a following of women with striking red carpet presence, such as Tilda Swinton.
Compared to the coquettish femininity of John Galliano his ‘architectural’ collections are prized more for their cerebral not sex appeal. It has been inevitable therefore that there has been speculation as to how he will square that approach with Dior’s heartland: the Jolie Madame, whose lace and chiffon dressed flirtations John Galliano elegantly enabled for more than 15 years.
But Simons is not an ascetic. His most recent collections, which the designer himself has referred to as his "couture trilogy", have included fondant coloured duster coats, full skirted dresses and tailoring redolent of the post war romance of the New Look. Fashion’s shy modernist has a seductive side.
When appointed he said. "It is with the utmost respect for its tremendous history, its unparalleled knowledge and craftsmanship that I am joining the magnificent house of Dior. Mr Christian Dior has always been for me the most inspiring couturier. Around the globe, the name Dior symbolises the ultimate in elegance and refinement. I am truly humbled and honoured to become artistic director of the most celebrated French house in the world.
Simons is only the sixth designer to steer the house of Christian Dior – following the founder (who died in ‘57) there was Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferré, and John Galliano. The world has changed immeasurably in the last ten years and remarkably even since Galliano’s departure. Simons’ bosses are undoubtedly hoping he will help propel the iconic brand into the 21st century.
by Paula Reed
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