“What is modern?” is what Raf Simons asked himself as he worked on his spring Christian Dior prêt-à-porter collection. While it’s not the most original question to be mulling over—one would hope that every designer has that on his or her mind—what makes the difference here is that Simons is capable of fresh, compelling, and oftentimes very beautiful answers to that query. In fact, one could argue that Simons’s time at the house of Dior has been spent asking all the right questions. You could add “What does haute couture need to be?,” “What’s global?,” and perhaps the one he wrestles with most: “How do women want to be seen today?” Simons, a designer who gives equal weight to intellectual process and emotional resonance, riffed on his splendid couture of this past July, a fusion of eighteenth-century robe à la Française (think John Malkovich in Dangerous Liaisons) and a Kubrickian space odyssey, in response to identify his notion of modernity. It was the future projected through the prism of the past. Just in case that idea needed reinforcing, the Dior show was held in a mirrored box that endlessly reflected the ornate grandeur of the Louvre’s Cour Carrée.
If this sounds weighty in concept and execution, it wasn’t. It simply became a starting point to send the Dior ateliers into hyperdrive, fusing historical romanticism—rounded sleeves on billowing shirttail–hemmed chemises, paniered skirts whose birdcage volumes contrasted starkly with the gleaming white sportif tanks they were worn with—with a design language that’s redolent of the present day; consider that the second-skin sculpted-heel boots, to the ankle or knee, came in a stretch mesh akin to Nike’s Flyknit. Elsewhere, he quoted the absolutely impeccable tailoring of his couture. There were exquisite leather coats, their narrow shoulders and slim bodies falling into full skirts, a silhouette amplified by the placement of belts that cinched above the natural waistline, while embroidered bomber jackets were worn with perfectly cut trousers. So in the end, did Simons answer the question he posed to himself? Yes. Let’s just say the evening finale, which brought together embroidered frock coats and long vests over board shorts, gave us a glimpse of nowness we didn’t realize existed until we saw it.