Get ready for the Simons effect

When it comes to setting the agenda, Dior’s Raf Simons leaves YSL in the shade

The tents are down, brands have packed up and press and buyers have finally retreated back to their respective cities; fashion month is well and truly over. And with everything coming to an end, people’s attention has quickly moved from the collections to the ongoing feud between the New York Times’ Cathy Horyn and Yves Saint Laurent’s new creative director Hedi Slimane (Horyn was allegedly forced to review the show from images after being refused an invitation). As much as the battle has, to a large extent, detracted from what has actually been a very strong season, in reality it perfectly mirrors the raised temperature and drama that characterised Paris fashion week.

Women’s Wear Daily was not far off the mark, then, when it ran the headline, “Paris Face-Off,” accompanied by an image of Slimane pitted against Dior’s new creative director, Raf Simons. The anticipation surrounding both designers’ respective womenswear debuts has had all of the characteristics of a great Hollywood movie — there’s the long standing rivalry between the two fashion houses, the drama and the intrigue – but more than anything else, the collections were an important indicators of where fashion is headed.

Forgive me if I sound a tad on the dramatic side but it’s true. All you need to do is look at the effect Phoebe Philo had when she arrived at Céline back in 2008 at a time where just about everything was embellished and hemlines were just as high as the shoulder pads on Balmain inspired jackets. She completely changed the way women dressed and the same was expected of Slimane and Dior.

Luxury brands are increasingly looking for ways to tap into the “new” and capture the imagination of tomorrow’s luxury customers and it wouldn’t be too harsh to say that both Dior and YSL have been lacking on that front for a some time. While the former has been embroiled in drama upon drama since John Galliano’s fall from grace, the latter hasn’t done anything particularly ground breaking either so both appointments were not coincidental. Both are seen as innovators and the kind of designers that dance to the beat of their own drum and this year is particularly important for both labels as Dior turns 65 years-old and YSL, 50.

The big question, then, is did they do it? Raf Simons certainly did. Like for couture, he made sure to pay homage to the past. He did this by tapping into the label’s signature ‘bar’ silhouette, but thankfully the nostalgia ended there. Dresses came in high-tech iridescent fabrics and had a sexual feel to them, showing that Simons’ pared down aesthetic isn’t as diametrically opposed to sexuality as one might have thought. More than anything, it proved that he hasn’t allowed himself to be held back by the brand’s history. The ball gown, for example — something very few designers have been able to update — came pared down with a black sweater style up top; a clear sign if ever that today’s woman wants to live in her clothes rather than simply admiring them from afar.

The same wasn’t true at Yves Saint Laurent. Despite inititally coming across as quite the rebel when announcing his decision to change the brand’s name to Saint Laurent Paris, Slimane actually proved himself to be more loyal to the brand’s heritage than many had expected. To that effect, the collection didn’t steer too far from what the label produced in the 60s and 70s, leaving editors wishing that he’d put his own stamp on things, which, in fairness, was what they initially criticised him for.

The lesson learnt? If you want to know where fashion is headed not just for next season but in years to come, look no further than Raf Simon’s new vision at Dior. Where he goes, the rest will most certainly follow.