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Raf Simons brings Dior to Brooklyn

The Dior figurehead tells us why his Cruise show embraces a new "kind of reality", fuelled by his love of American pop culture

At last year's Dior cruise show, we entered a playground of monied cruisers in Monaco. This season, in stark contrast, we were taken aboard a Dior-branded yellow taxi ferry for a ten-minute journey to Brooklyn's Navy Yard, livened up by lads in custom Dior grey sailor tops. It was Raf Simons and Dior exploring their collective love affair with the USA. For the house of Dior, it's a longstanding relationship beginning with the legendary Harper's Bazaar editor Carmel Snow, who coined the phrase "New Look" back in 1947. For Simons, it's the melting pot of styles and the way women dress with a sense of "reality" that is inspiring.

And so in an ever more freewheeling mood, Simons elevated us within the Brooklyn Navy Yard, illuminated with LED screens and mirrors, to give us a fluid and abstracted version of American style. The very European silk scarf - the carré - was the central motif, and was freed up as squares of silk were made into into patchwork formation slip dresses and archival prints clashed with one another, spliced on the body.  On the one hand, you had Simons maintaining a rigorous Dior silhouette as he looked at the hard body of a couture mannequin as a way of informing the construction. On the other end of the scale, fluid skirts, blanket coats, hand woven carpet textures and a Dior take on macrame was Simons uncharacteristically doing something akin to bohemian.  

When asked about the way he has established a language at Dior though, Simons said, "I don't want to pin it down too early." In other words, there are more strings to this Simons at Dior bow. The direction he is taking Dior can swerve and change. For now, Simons feels reality and specifically with this collection, American ease and freedom is what Dior needs. Give it another year or two and that might have changed. We're in for an exciting journey aboard the Dior ship Simons is steering.  

Why did you want to show in New York?  

Raf Simons: When we planned to show in the USA, there was this whole dialogue about it because as a Belgian, I find the USA too inspiring – it's pop, it's energetic – we had a lot of conversations about where to show. We might show in other cities in the USA in the future. LA and NY are the two places I know best. I liked that the collection played with the contrast between those two cities, uptown and downtown and the contrasting attitudes between the West Coast and the East Coast. That was an important starting point. Within the context of the Dior silhouette – and well-known strictness – that you could have this hippy, bohemian thing.  

Tell us about the main leitmotif of the collection – the silk carré?

Raf Simons: The scarf thing came from research we were doing. I wanted to see how he [Monsieur Dior] dealt with printing outside of printing on garments. They're almost like objects. You buy a scarf in a different way from how you buy a dress or a coat. Completely against my own expectations, the scarves were very different from what I was expecting at Dior. I liked them a lot as they were very often drawn by Dior and people around him – very rough, very artistic with painterly brush strokes.  We found quite a lot that we liked. Some prints are archival, some are started from scratch but always within the aesthetic that we found in the archives.  

What was originally supposed to be a new print idea – turned out to be more inspiring for different reasons. I found them a bit pop, almost like a flag. At the end of the day, it's just a carre – a square. That's very much in contrast with what Dior is in terms of shape, so it was interesting to bring it out in the construction of the garment. As surface impact, it's extremely feminine. Besides that we also wanted to have a pure starting point - the shape we relate to at Dior. We always speak about the bar, the bar, the bar but here i was looking at the couture mannequin - the shape of the woman. We wanted to make it look softer and different. We always see it as an object in the atelier and it's always hard. I wanted to use silk and print to make a sort of painted body, more artistic.

You've been at Dior close to two years now. Do you feel like you have bedded into the brand and brought more of yourself to the Dior table?

Raf Simons: I still think this is very much the beginning. I don't like it when people pin it down too quickly. I don't want to pin it down myself. I hear a lot of people saying "It's more Raf now!" People might one day be surprised that it might become very different. It's a world where you can explore so much and bring it out in many different directions which is very fascinating as a brand. These two years for me are about bringing out a certain kind of reality. It's not that I'm not interested in the fantastic. Maybe that's still something to explore. In this moment in time though, it's very important to put it into the reality of how women are and how they wear their clothes. It doesn't feel right to take over this historic brand if women didn't wear it. I'd feel really bad if women only looked at it. Worldwide, women automatically connect to it through the name, which has that historical impact, but then they go and buy an object that relates to world. Now with ready to wear, it's seriously growing and I feel very happy about it.