Susie Lau steps into Raf Simons’ garden of earthly delights – filled with sweeping skirts, artistic references and Medieval silhouettes
At the bottom of the Musée Rodin’s garden, a spectacular greenhouse loomed over us. Raf Simons described it as a “Modernist, Pointillist church” and as you approached it, much like a Georges Seurat painting, you could see the individual flecks of paint glistening on panels of glass, atop a frame of scaffolding – like stained glass windows on acid. Inside this hothouse, a surreal garden awaited with purple astroturf strewn with shiny globules that looked like giant gobstoppers. As we waited to worship at the altar of Haute Couture, we got hot and bothered by the searing temperatures, with a Dior fan provided to cool us down. The sun continued to beat down upon us but the natural light did effectively showcase the ethereal nature of the clothes.
Simons has been keen to show that he can do sensual with both his last Ready-to-Wear and Haute Couture collections. This time round, Hieronymus Bosch’s famous triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights planted the seeds for Simons’ forbidden fruit. The Dior Garden thus became not just a surface display of flowers but a metaphorical vehicle for Simons to pit virginal white floor-length sheaths versus decadently embroidered dresses that gaped wide open at the sides. That amount of flesh on show might have been a first for Simons. On the other hand, models also clutched their giant Dior part-Middle Ages, part-Belle Époque manteaux together in front with their hands. It’s a gesture that recalled Simons’ last show for Jil Sander but here at Dior that gesture felt like an act of seduction, beneath the concealed modesty.
REALITY AND UNREALITY
The conversation rumbles on about the point of haute couture. What is its relevance aside from its image acting to help sell everything else that is accessible? Simons’ missive at the house has thus far been to inject reality, especially into the haute couture. Taking inspiration from the Flemish Masters, Simons adopted their approach to painting, where an appreciation of naturalistic reality is combined with finessed skill. He applied it to trapeze coats and capes and elongated dresses worn with cage-like bejewelled netting. “Reality and the unreality: you can’t have one without the other.” We might have been watching these models walk by on purple grass, but these are clothes that saw the light of day.
TIME-HOPPING ART REFERENCES
It’s not the first time Simons has cherry picked his way through the past but this time round, the cross-pollination of time and stylistic periods spelled an altogether otherworldly epoch. Status-proclaiming sleeves that might have appeared in a Hans Holbein or Rembrandt portrait are taken out of context and placed alongside sweeping opera coats. The daubed brushstrokes of Claude Monet and Paul Signac were rendered on painted dresses or as intricately cut feather embroidery on sweeping skirts. Those 19th century art references were just as comfortable with Medieval silhouettes, as the garden became a playground for Simons to once again time-hop.
Dior’s FROWs are consistently starry, but the maison has expanded their coterie of friends to include Grimes in a pink sequinned dress, acting newcomer Sasha Lane and Rick Owens’ other half Michele Lamy as well as more conventional starlets like Lupita Nyong’o, Rosie Huntington Whitely and Emily Blunt.