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Christian Dior Haute Couture SS16
Backstage at Christian Dior Haute Couture SS16Photography Chloé Le Drezen

What happened at Dior’s first show since Raf’s departure

With no designer at the helm, the house presents its haute couture SS16 collection – Susie Bubble reports

Inside Dior’s mirrored set at their haute couture show, you couldn’t help but think back to that bittersweet ready-to-wear show in 2011, just after John Galliano had been fired from the house, where CEO Sidney Toledano asserted the values of the house in a powerful speech and it ended with the staff of the atelier coming out for an emotive bow. Yesterday was the second time in a decade that a Dior show went ahead without an artistic director appointed to helm the house, something that perhaps Toledano had not foreseen. This time round, there was no sentimental fanfare. It was business as usual. There was the imposing mirrored set, placed in the gardens of Musée Rodin. There were the clients and influencers trussed up in the last of Raf Simons’ collections for Dior.  

And then there was the ghost of Raf Simons himself. The official line is that an in-house team, who had worked under Simons, are taking charge for the time being, shaping both this haute couture collection and the subsequent AW16 ready-to-wear collection. They’re not an anonymous entity either. The design team is being directed by Serge Ruffieux and Lucie Meier, who both came out at the end of the show with their team to rousing applause, looking slightly embarrassed to be in the spotlight.

As expected, Simons’ short-lived but powerful blueprint for Dior lived on in this collection. The press notes ended with the phrase “couture’s new realism” – something that Simons laid the foundations for when he gave Dior haute couture a grounded tangibility, be it through embroidered trainers or sharp daywear tailoring. A deconstructed approach towards couture carried over in the dresses and jackets that appeared to be slipping off the shoulders and in the micro-detail embroidery that saw Monsieur Dior’s favourite lily of the valley scattered in beads all over a jacket and an abstracted panther motif.

And yet there was a sense that perhaps this collection looked a little like Dior par Raf by numbers. The design team have done an admirable job given the circumstances and the layered skirts, ruffled tops and ‘Bar’ jacket/coat iterations will probably do brisk trade in the couture fitting rooms. But the absence of a creative director was palpable. For a house, whose founder said things like, “Deep in every heart slumbers a dream, and the couturier knows it: every woman is a princess,” it’s hard to sell that femme fleur fantastical dream without an in-the-flesh visionary guiding it. Monsieur Dior also once said: “In a machine age, dressmaking is one of the last refuges of the human, the personal, the inimitable.” And that’s what is required at Dior – both the personal and the inimitable.  

Perhaps for the masses of Dior fans out there simply looking and liking the catwalk images, the ins and outs of who is behind the house isn’t important. But as Vanessa Friedman noted in a piece for The New York Times, written shortly after Simons announced his departure from Dior, if we divorce emotion and sentiment from a brand, all that the customer is left with is merely “stuff.” And for haute couture customers in particular, buying into a designer’s unique vision is surely part of the cachet of investing in a dress that costs tens of thousands of pounds – to at least try to feel the “hand” of a designer in a garment made to fit her, and her only.    

If we’ve learnt anything from the latest rumours doing the rounds (Hedi Slimane leaving Saint Laurent, with Anthony Vaccarello to replace him?) is that creative directors of the 21st century aren’t necessarily emotionally attached to the houses they’re employed by. And of course, no hired designer can become bigger than the house itself. Still, that doesn’t stop fashion fans from attaching said creative director to the house. Without the individual personas, the distinct taste levels and the distinguished aesthetics, a house can feel hollow. The reflections of these beautiful iterations of Raf’s residual vision, coming and going from the mirrored set, felt transient, awaiting the arrival of someone that has something to say.