Long Nguyen is co-founder and style director of Flaunt
Paris Haute Couture, an exhibit which explores the history of couture, may be taking place at the Hôtel de Ville right now–but just up the Seine, Raf Simons gave his own fashion history lesson at his fall 2013 Dior show.
Held under the golden dome of the Hôtel des Invalides, the show space set an uplifting tone for the collection: Giant reflective mylar balloons floated randomly throughout the space, and images of Magritte-style blue sky and white cumulous clouds were projected on the floor.
The setting was the perfect compliment to a collection which explored the creative process–the experiences and the obsessions, and in this case the art–that has shaped fashion design today as well as in Christian Dior’s day. For Mr. Dior, it was the surrealist art of Dali and Giacometti that captured his imagination. For Mr. Simons, it’s mid-century modernism and the simple elegance of streamlined architecture. And, as it turns out, Andy Warhol.
Like Mr. Dior’s connections to Dali, Mr. Simons’s obsession with the early drawings of Andy Warhol (some of which are currently up for auction on Christies.com) permeated the collection. Simons shows particular interest in the graphic dynamism inherent in Warhol’s hand-colored drawings: ‘Stamped Shoe with Butterflies 1961’, ‘High Heel’ and ‘Shoe 1955’ appeared on several pieces in the collection as a collaboration with the Andy Warhol Foundation.
The designer’s deployment of Warhol’s bold graphic art had a deeper double meaning in the sense that he is introducing a new graphic silhouette to Dior (like that superb black and white patterned knit shift dress on look 21) in his second season at the house. It seems that though this exploration of Warhol, Mr. Simons found the freedom to create great art himself–something that is more important than ever in fashion.
The word ‘scrapbook’ was used in the show notes, and it’s an apt descriptor for the collection, which brought such different elements together–a practice, which can bring great freedom to artists. The spirit of free-association floated throughout the show space, much like the airy, reflective mylar balloons. Mr. Simons refreshed the house codes by using modern fabrics: a 1949 Miss Dior strapless dress was done with subtle embroideries on leather and tulle, and in a softer cut; the classic Bar jacket pantsuit was even given a wool/denim treatment.
With this collection it is worth noting that Simons is not trying to bring the Dior archives back to life. Rather, he is looking at the house history and asking what ideas Mr. Dior was interested in and obsessed with that allowed him to create such a distinct aesthetic. Simons is asking himself these same questions–and allowing himself the same freedom granted to the original designer in drafting the next chapter in Dior’s storied history.