Sunday, 25 October 2015

Monsieur Simons bows out

Classic but revolutionary. Understated but intricate. Relaxed but disciplined. While Raf Simons himself has always seemed one of the fashion world's most balanced inhabitants – bringing calm to the storm that engulfed Dior after former director John Galliano's anti-semitic outburst was exposed in 2011 – his work at the famous fashion house has always been complex.

This talent for contradiction has allowed Simons to be true to the revered French brand's classic roots – channelling the innate femininity and trademark silhouettes cultivated by Christian Dior himself – while keeping things utterly modern, and bringing the brand firmly back into the contemporary conversation. It's a talent that was on display as recently as Dior's Paris show this October, where the designer showcased a collection featuring Victorian-style lingerie that, in true Simons style, appeared wholly modern and wearable. Just a few weeks later however, it became apparent that the collection had been his Dior swansong. On October 22, Simons announced in a statement that he would not be renewing his contract as creative director.

This is a blow that will no doubt be felt keenly be the revered French brand. Under Simons' artistic leadership, Dior attracted some of the world's most in-demand celebrities as ambassadors. The support of Jennifer Lawrence and Rihanna – two stars famed for their individual brands of effortless cool – is an indication of just how much street cred the Belgian-born designer lent the French house over the course of their collaboration. Lawrence's infamous stumble as she collected her Oscar in 2013 was made all the more iconic thanks to the gown with the unmistakable Simons touch that enveloped her, Parisian prom queen-style, on those famous stairs, while Rihanna became the brand's first black campaign star – a long overdue fashion moment and further evidence of Simons' modernising influence. Apart from anything else, though, the numbers do the talking: in its last fiscal year to the end of June, Dior's revenue was reportedly up by 18 per cent to €1.77 billion.

The departure of Dior's blue-eyed wonder child has taken the fashion world by surprise. But the comments Simons made before his last show should perhaps have tipped them off. “I’m questioning a lot,” the designer said of fashion's fast-paced, cyclical nature. “I feel a lot of people are questioning. We have a lot of conversations about it: Where is it going? It’s not only the clothes. It’s the clothes, it’s everything...the Internet.”

The advent of blogs and Instagram and all the speedy digital updates that have disrupted the fashion world in recent years has been increasingly reflected in its upper echelons. With the notable exclusion of Chanel's Karl Lagerfeld, few designers remain in their posts for lengthy periods in today's fast-paced fashion world, and Simons' departure came mere weeks after Alexander Wang stepped down from his post as creative director at Balenciaga, just three years after he took over the reigns. Other recent casualties of the fashion conveyer belt include Donna Karan, who left her eponymous brand this July, as well as Frida Giannini, who was ousted from Gucci last December.

Simons' appointment at Dior came in 2012, following a seven year stint at Jil Sander and shortly after former creative director John Galliano’s very public firing over a film showing the renowned designer spouting an alcohol-fuelled racist rant. Disgraced Galliano attributed the breakdown to the extreme pressure of a role that found him designing up to 16 collections in weekly intervals every year. Whether or not the workload was truly to blame for Galliano's behaviour, Simons' comments on stepping down seem to echo concerns over the role's significant demands. Far from any personality clashes or problems with the Dior management, the decision to leave appears to have been made in the hope of a bit of peace and quiet. In his official statement, Simons described it as a choice "based entirely and equally on my desire to focus on other interests in my life, including my own brand and the passions that drive me outside my work”.

In fact, earlier in his career, the designer revealed his personal maxim: “The fashion world doesn’t know the word 'stop', so you have to make sure there are sublime moments every day.” He has described this in interviews as meaning taking time out to spend with old friends, and indulging in his passions outside the fashion world, which are well-documented. He is vocal in his enthusiasm for music (and the house genre that he developed a love for as a student) and notably, contemporary art, which he has often cited as directly influential on his collections. 

His quiet calm and authentic sense of humanity have often played in stark contrast to the hubbub that surrounds any haute couture brand. This was aptly demonstrated during a moment in Dior and I, the candid 2014 documentary which followed Simons in the build-up to his first couture show at the helm of Dior. Ten minutes prior to the now celebrated collection being unveiled, a poignant moment sees teary-eyed Simons escaping to the Parisian rooftop of the venue where a who's-who of the fashion universe is assembled downstairs, to take deep breaths and compose himself. 

As he was reported to have said in 2012, 'When you do six shows a year, there’s not enough time for the whole process. Technically, yes – the people who make the samples, do the stitching, they can do it. But you have no incubation time for ideas, and incubation time is very important.” 

Simons' recent statement is a reminder that while it might not always seem it, the fashion world is still very much part of the real world, and its inhabitants crave a simple work/life balance, along with an "incubation period", just like any other average joe. He closed the statement by saying: "Christian Dior is an extraordinary company, and it has been an immense privilege to write a few pages of this magnificent book.” It will be interesting to see the pages he now writes for himself.

Categories: , ,