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At Dior Cruise, Raf Simons Comes Into His Own

Set against the backdrop of Pierre Cardin's "Bubble Palace" in France, the designer showed his 2016 resort collection.
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Models walking the grounds of the so-called Bubble Palace. Photo: Dior

Models walking the grounds of the so-called Bubble Palace. Photo: Dior

It’s not by accident that Dior’s creative director, Raf Simons, chose Le Palais Bulles, a bubble-shaped, multi-level house built by the Hungarian architect Antti Lovag, to show his new cruise collection. The structure of the building, which sits on the Theoule-sur-Mer cliff near Cannes, is based on Inuit dwellings, a specific environment that captured the spirit of the clothes. The collection married the architecture of the past with a sharp focus on the present by combining an array of colors and textures, transforming classical clothes into something with a more youthful spirit. Pierre Cardin, the current owner of the house, sat and watched the parade of short knit dresses, cropped jackets and folded mini-skirts. Like Cardin’s own work of the 1960s and ‘70s, the show was full of experimentation. And it was a full circle moment in many ways, given that Cardin too was the head of the Dior atelier, serving under the namesake.

"In many ways it is a form of architecture you cannot connect to another. It is more human than rational; individual and playful," Simons said of the Palais Bulles. In a way, he was describing his own collection, which this time was infused with more emotions than intellect.

In some instances, Simons' collections for Dior have been so scholarly that they required the audience to be well-versed in the intricacies of fashion history and technique. Yet while the connection to Dior’s legacy and the expertise of the atelier were in plain sight at this show, there was a lighter touch. For instance, the opening look – a checkered wool jacket with flared sleeves, worn with taffeta hot pants – was done in the classic Bar silhouette. But it wasn’t only about the shape. Even a more classic black wool pantsuit felt young and new, thanks to a cropped hem length.

Incorporating the liveliness of the world of the Cote d'Azur meant a collection that reflected the mood of the sunny sky, deep blue ocean and luscious greenery, where the locals mix different elements to form a style as unique as the climate. The colors of the Mediterranean shone through the pink rubber tweed sleeveless knit tank, a yellow short skirt, and a pleated crimson tank dress with a printed chiffon underlay. The light charcoal knit 'swim' suit can easily be worn off the beach. And the atelier’s dazzling handiwork was highlighted in the precise, laser-cut perforated jackets and homespun knit crochet dresses with bits of patchwork furs.

"I wanted an idea of freedom, playfulness and individuality to come to the fore with this collection, especially in consideration of the Dior archive," Simons said in the show's program notes. By making the archive nearly invisible but still omnipresent, Simons has moved Dior forward to a new era. But I suspect there is something else, too. Simons seems to have come to a place where he is comfortable relying on his own instincts rather than using the house’s legacy and heritage to justify his work. When I asked him while waiting for luggage at the Nice Cote d'Azur airport Sunday whether the fittings for the show were completed, he said that they had been done in Paris before midnight the day before, and that he even had time for a proper dinner. That level of comfort was on display tonight.

Long Nguyen is the co-founder and style director of

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