Friday, July 8, 2016

Dior Carries On, Post-Raf

When Raf Simons announced his departure from Christian Dior last November I think everyone was in shock. Nobody saw it coming that quick. Three years and he left quietly; there was no big goodbye, like Alex Wang at Balenciaga, just a quiet, respectful exit. This morning, we have learned that Dior have finally appointed Maria Grazia Chiuri, of Valentino success. (The Italian house confirmed yesterday her exit) In the interim, the design team was led by Serge Ruffieux and Lucie Meier. They presented their second collection for the house in January, haute couture.

“Couture’s new realism”, was what they looked at. They captured the quotidian in a couture collection without it being heightened ready-to-wear. The collection was embroidered with thousands of beads and sequins, it explored new volumes. Iterations of the famous ‘Bar’ jacket oozed modernity—saleability to the max. Expert tailoring underlined the collection, and a foray into print was an interesting facet to the show. There were some new shapes too, the design team experimenting slightly, without the clothes becoming to detached from the label. Raf Simons ghost was noted. In fact, when I first saw this collection I said “this is more Raf than Raf.” Where Raf was quiet and honoured the house codes, Ruffieux and Meier have the willingness to experiment, to leave 

The whole collection featured some lovely pieces, but almost every fashion editor focused on the soullessness of the house, the headless creativity at play. As evidenced by the quotes below (many of which are borrowed from Dhani Mau’s Fashionista post), the impatient fashion pack are more focused on the successor’s appointment than the collection at hand. 

“There is talent in the ranks of Dior, and it may be that, long-term, this baptism of fire will produce stars. Shorter term, the fashion world waits to find out who will become Dior’s next visionary leader.” - Sarah Mower, Vogue Runway

“After today’s outing they could do far worse than hire these two talents. If the swirling rumour mill is to be believed, an announcement will be made imminently.” - Sarah Harris, Vogue UK

“With so much festering gossip, a little crisp, clear, clean Swiss air could be just what haute couture needs.” - Suzy Menkes, Vogue

“Let’s just say we’re starting to get excited about those Sarah Burton rumours.” - Dhani Mau, Fashionista

“The team has also been conscripted to realise the fall 2016 ready-to-wear show in March, awaiting the arrival of Dior’s seventh couturier, fashion’s latest $64,000 question.” - Miles Socha, WWD
In March at Paris Fashion Week, the fashion industry continued to lament the loss of Raf Simons. Ruffieux and Meier’s debut ready-to-wear collection was as critically divisive as before—som even dismissed it, omitting it from their coverage. The collection was held in the Louvre’s Cour Carrée, as recent Dior collections have been. 

There was a lot to like in the collection. Beautifully embellished jackets, off-the-shoulder construction, a bygone era vignette that has underscored the Swiss duo’s Dior. Again, there was a vague sense of Raf’s spirit. There were reinterpretations of his work for Dior: more riffs on the ‘Bar’ jacket, a blazer transformed into a dress, excellent tailoring.

Where the collection faltered was in its blatant execution. Models toted new season bags (some had more than one); there feet was cased in obvious lace-up footwear; sunglasses adorned their small faces and rings lined each finger. Stuff. That’s all it was. To be cynical about things, the overuse of accessories in this collection was an opportunity for the brand to share with its customers the main items it wants to be purchased in the fall. The expensive ones, the moneymakers. It was a cheap but effective marketing plan, which is something we don’t see from Dior, ever. Similarly, the plum lip that punctuated each look felt like a blatant advertisement for Dior Beauty. Lest we forget, model and social media juggernaut Kendall Jenner strode the runway—her first Dior show. Theorising is all that seems to happen in the absence of a creative director. But for some, there’s nothing else to latch onto. The clothes lacked emotion and meaning that only an official creative director can bring to a house like Dior. 
The resort 2017 extravaganza in June was the Swiss duo’s chance to woo their audience. England was chosen as the venue. Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire was the pretty backdrop for the event. Editors, local and international, and customers were carted from Victoria Station to London on the Dior Express (a specially branded train for the journey). 

Blenheim Palace and Dior have a special history. In 1954, Christian Dior was invited by the Duchess of Marlborough to present his fall haute couture collection. The event was initiated to raise important funds for the Red Cross. Then in 1958, Christian Dior’s successor Yves Saint Laurent presented a collection in the 300-year-old palace. More than 60 years since the last visit, it was an odd time for Dior to be bringing guests back to Blenheim. No creative director, negative press, meaningless clothes being presented. Although resort, or cruise, is a meaningless excuse for a brand saturation, this Dior collection was something stronger, more potent than previous. There was an homage to Dior past and the company they were in: the English. English eccentricity was a major grounding for the collection. There was a further exploration with nutty prints, layering and overt accessorising. 

What this collection did, that the others couldn’t, was breathe clear Swiss air that Suzy Menkes wrote about. It was kept light and airy, perfect for the cruise season. There was Englishness that wasn’t too cartoonish; it was grounded in reality. It’s only weakness was that it was too referential of Jonathan Anderson and Phoebe Philo’s work. See: ruching, sleeves resembling leg-of-mutton re-popularised by JW recently, Philo’s trouser cut. 
The “crisp, clean, clear” air that Suzy Menkes wrote about in January sprung immediately to mind at this week’s couture show.

30 Avenue Montaigne, the building that Christian Dior selected 70 years ago to house his haute couture operations was the venue—a switch from the usual Musée Rodin location. Dior’s Instagram posted an image from 1947 when guests were clamouring to get a seat at the show. They clogged the staircase in attempts to witness the beauty that would take to the runway. I hate to use the old expression, “they don’t make them like that anymore,” but it feels apt, and not just for the current state of Dior. Fashion isn’t shrouded in the same excitement as it used to be. The creative side of things are becoming compromised and the industry is moving at an unsustainable pace. But talk of all that during the haute couture shows is ineffectual. It’s relaxed, and the last sure thing about fashion.

Relaxed is the perfect word to attribute to this Dior collection, presumably the last under the direction of Ruffieux and Meier. To reiterate my earlier point, this was the most “crisp, clean, clear” outing from the designers. Everything was refined, elegant. They reworked the classic New Look, which celebrates its 70th anniversary with the Spring 2017 show. It was breezier, delicate almost. There was tenderness imbued in this collection. It was a subtle, quiet affair but it was undeniably beautiful and impactful in its own way. After five collections, things are left malleable for the successor.

Dior was the show everyone anticipated. When Galliano was the creative director, it was a joyous occasion. What he’d present was going to be fantastic, there were no doubts. The same goes for Raf—the fanfare surrounding his work, the legion of pledged followers in awe. Ruffieux and Meier haven’t had time to establish a footing. 

I began to lament the loss of a creative director. It wasn’t because Ruffieux and Meier weren’t doing the brand any justice, they just lacked confidence. To carry a brand like Christian Dior back to its successful perch requires someone with confidence, self-assuredness, emotion. I’m sure Ruffieux and Meier could do great things—but this comment is a reflection on the business side at Dior: they want a creative mastermind that the fashion industry will respond to well. It’s not surprising that Maria Grazia Chiuri has been appointed. She’s a magnificent designer for one, and she was one of the geniuses behind Valentino’s transformation, ushering the company to billion dollar status. She is Dior’s first official female creative director. That’s one for the history books; as for the interim between Raf and the next creative director? The clothes will probably be forgotten about, but the story will forever be there.
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