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c.2013 New York Times News Service
PARIS — When LVMH was searching for a designer for its Dior brand, Raf Simons looked as if he might be the last boy at the dance. Other names were always mentioned first. But within a year he has transformed Dior and, in a way, fashion.
His boss, Sidney Toledano, the president of Dior, perhaps described the Raf effect best. Standing in a room filled with giant Mylar capsules, which reflected the designer's interest in all things modern, Toledano said that Simons has brought depth and a sense of curiosity to the company.
''We discover new things with him," the executive said. "This is good. I am young again."
To that encomium, Simons might add a sense of fun.
This collection showed him in an incredibly free state of mind as he reinterpreted a houndstooth pattern that first looked modern when Christian Dior used it in 1948. He added graphic elements in the form of striking knit dresses or early Warhol shoe illustrations (on bags and embroideries), and sought other connections with the couturier, like Dior's love of Surrealism.
For Simons, who favors midcentury art, the process was one of juxtaposing ideas rather than seeking perfect matches. "In the end, it's all personal feelings," he said.
Personal or not, it was abundantly clear what Simons was up to with this show, even if it at times the pieces seemed to hover as an impression. He was trying to re-create the realities of having strong sensitivities — in the crashing of a black skirt through the opening of an elegant red coat, in the amount of asymmetry and in the varied silhouettes. A recording by Laurie Anderson of a visit to a West Village vet to see why her dog was so fat played for much of the show. That neurotic patter, against the self-reflecting clouds of Mylar, said it all.
That Simons is able to pierce the strange membrane of time and memory, and make clothes of exceptional beauty and calm for today, is why he has the fashion industry's attention. In a very real way, these clothes also appeal to many types of women.
Alber Elbaz also expressed that ideal in a dynamic Lanvin show. For Simons, moving between Dior's tailoring and the fluid shapes is important, but an older woman, who isn't really into fashion, might see herself in a black draped jacket and matching skirt. (And it doesn't say, "I'm old.") A very different woman might go for a cream shift with Surrealist embroideries, another for a bias-cut gray flannel dress with a deep black taffeta hem. But all these styles spring from the same brain. Recently, Simons admitted he is becoming a more patient man.
Elbaz has long expressed frustration with the hamster wheel of fashion — the sameness and repetition of everything. But he's a smart guy. He thinks about all this stuff and he cares, if only for the sake of his own sanity, and those who work with him.
So he did something about it. He created a collection that reflects a diversity of personalities. And he just threw them at you: the tough, the snooty, the flowery, the sedate, the overdone.
The opening looks included a silk tunic splashed with ditsy chiffon flowers and a severe coat dress worthy of a board meeting. The show got better and better. One second you were questioning the taste of a bouncy print dress piled with chains, including one that said "hot," and the next, a beautiful dress in pale rose silk appeared, draped to one side as if someone blew on the fabric.
Hussein Chalayan's collection was smaller in scope, but sharp in its bite. Especially strong were denim trousers with deep cuffs, sculptural wool and leather jackets, and dresses that converted with a flick of a cord into a new look.