It seems like most of the fashion media world can’t fully articulate what they think about his appointment beyond the basic congratulations and cliche speculation about his sure-to-be-inevitable success at the helm of the house of Dior. The most I’ve heard regarding the situation is that:
- It was a sensible choice for Dior to choose Simons over the plentiful popular designers the Dior name had it’s pick of.
- Simons is sure to be perfect because his aesthetic is basically modern takes on mid-century couture shapes (regardless of the fact that this aesthetic was capsulated in a three-season statement about the era).
- Simons’ difficulty is going to be turning from his minimalist aesthetic due to the house of Dior being “frilly” and “feminine”.
And while all these are valid points regarding this sure to be historic appointment, it doesn’t address what I believe is driving the anticipation almost every person interested in this story is feeling. Raf Simons’ first collection for Dior, during couture week no less, is going to solidify an entirely new era in fashion. It will be a paradigm shift. It will ripple throughout the next decade or even further. It will change forever how people regard couture and the fashion industry or even clothing in general.
Or at least it has the potential to.
I’m sure memories of John Galliano’s appointment back in 1996/97 aren’t far from the minds of anyone lucky enough to remember them. And, in retrospect, from a fashion history perspective handing the keys of one of the most storied, respected, and revered fashion houses to an image-obsessed club kid from England set off a series of events that are, in many ways, still playing themselves out long past their initial impact. It’s clear to see what the Dior name and archive can do. In many ways it’s almost a tool, a stage, or even a plague. Taking John Galliano, who possessed an affinity for mid-century couture but delighted in tearing it up; turning it inside out; spilling paint all over it; and shipping it to Africa and back, and forcing that aesthetic into the lime-light almost immediately changed the industry. And really it’s not purely Galliano’s own fashion aesthetic that ushered in how people would dress at the turn of the last century, but how his aesthetic meshed with that of the house of Dior.
There’s almost no other fashion house operating today with an as recognizable founding aesthetic as Dior. The strength of the Bar Suit silhouette, as well as the many interpretations by Dior couturiers over the years, is as iconic as the Chanel jacket. An archive that is as strong, as vast (particularly after Galliano’s term) and with as die-hard a following as Dior’s is essentially immoveable. There’s practically no way a designer could take over the house and expect success by re-directing the house from it’s original direction, such as was done at Balenciaga and Givenchy. And yes, those houses’ designers do take inspiration from their founders’ work, but the inspiration has only a core focus. Techniques and shapes are whittled away at or borrowed from rather than entire looks or ideas. The designers’ own interpretations on dressing, style and external inspiration are heavily favored over perpetuating/updating archival looks because of the success the new direction has brought the name of the house. At Dior, where the success of a designer has historically only been guaranteed by his devotion to the archive, it’s not hard to guess that Raf Simons’ own debut collection will adhere to Dior looks that everyone is familiar with.
Much like how a Valentino show cannot exist without a red gown, Simons’ Dior collection will almost certainly contain a variation on the iconic Bar Suit. It is this look that will define the relationship Simons has with the house. It will signal how he sees the house, it’s current state, and the direction he believes it should go. It is this one look that has everyone aflutter. What will it look like? The very thing that has the media referring to Galliano’s last collections as “tired” and “out of touch” used to be the groundbreaking and intriguing distortion of the Dior proportions that was essentially a high-class embrace of ‘heroin chic’. Will Simons’ vision for the house be as bold and defining? Will the mesh of Simons’ pitch-perfect modernity with the lush, historic beauty of Dior be as revolutionary as when Galliano turned the entire couture world on it’s head? Whatever the case, it’s sure to turn heads.
The growth of Dior, in business and in notoriety, over the past decade and a half have defined it for this new century. It’s no longer the case of some tired brand for older ladies being taken over by a young upstart. This is a brand that has established itself as one of the pillars of the internet-age fashion industry. And while the growth was astronomical, it was a candle that was doomed to burn out too fast. I began to develop an interest in fashion around 2008, when Galliano’s effect on the industry began to die down. As I gushed over the past collections, the new ones walked and I saw less and less of what I had seen in old issues of Vogue and W. Of course I wouldn’t come to realize this until a few years later and the crazed influence of my obsession had almost entirely passed, but what I had witnessed was a change. A slight one, but a change none the less. Fashion, in the midst of my own, had abandoned its fantasy.
The fashion world now is one of seriousness, of style and personality. Clothes are clothes and are almost nothing more. ‘Costume dressing’, while technically still alive and well, is a tired and now outlandish mode of style. This new fashion frontier was not made for the likes of designers such as Galliano who, until his very last collection, clung to his fantasy world of fashion even if that last make-believe heroine was none other than the caricature of the Dior woman he himself had created. Having the house of Dior, and LVMH for that matter, turn it’s back on him shows just how out of place Galliano, as a designer, is in this new fashion environment that has sprung up over the past few years. Controversy and scandal aside, Dior decided it would rather continue with no creative director rather than stand by the man who turned them into the fashion megalith they are today. And you could hardly say it’s entirely Galliano’s fault. The collections losing steam and becoming more and more corporate controlled definitely crippled Galliano’s own creative development. Without the freedom to explore and grow with the industry, Galliano was stuck producing work that was derivative of his own, and there are only so many times you can make a copy of a copy before the contents of the page are illegible.
So it’s for the best that Galliano has left the helm of arguably the most influential fashion house in the world. It’s definitely time for a new player to take the field. It’s time for someone who understands how people see clothes now. Someone fresh. As a relatively young designer with little baggage himself, Simons really is a great fit for Dior. His attitude towards design is such that could result in a decades long career at the house. There’s so much potential for him and for the brand following this shift. But no one will be able to gauge for sure just what may become of Simons at Dior until this July, when he finally presents the world with his plans for Dior and for the entire fashion industry.