Monday, February 16, 2015


To reach Spring/Summer 2015, the ghost of the Dior femme fleur gets sucked into a futuristic game of chutes and ladders through a cherry blossom tree lake reflection. To reach her present she must travel below into the depths of the unknown (M.C. Escher) waters. The traditional game rewards for virtue and good deeds. In this version, gatekeeper Raf Simons calls for a reversal of innocence. Reform and liberation is the goal.

Plastic opera coats printed with cherry blossom trees are the literal watered reflection from the beginning of the voyage. They represent a timeline of Dior’s history with Japan: 1950s Dior, John Galliano for Dior, as well as Raf’s recent Pre-Fall 2015 collection. The coats are symbolic wrappings; the tinted glass in which you look to see the past as well as Raf's crafted future. 
Through Simons’ kaleidoscope lens, Monsieur Dior's delicate woman is transported and transformed. Both tradition and purity are challenged: dense silver sequins and paillettes overgrow fragile guipure lace like mold. Psychedelic shapes and colors swirl and fuse onto the body. Legs are violently strapped in fetishistic vinyl boots. Organic innocence is defiled by the synthetic, by the new.
Flower's lace is literally being "torn" off | candy cane fencing traps purity

R: A tile mosaic of “Onde,”a 1969 Pucci scarf print inspired by the fluid motion of the sea
More bodysuits: 60s op-art + early 70s Bowie as Ziggy Stardust
  With traces of the past still on her skin, she emerges liberated, wild and free. She is a reflection, a historical mirror image—changed by natural, wild force (time).
  AndrĂ© Courrèges blue/pink dresses, L'Officiel, 1969 | Pierre Cardin red vinyl dress, L'Officiel, 1969 | Elsa Schiaparelli "glass" evening cape made of rhodophane cellulose, Harper's Bazaar, 1935
Her newness is dependent on the past—but it’s not a direct reflection. It’s a translation, AKA a glide reflection/transflection.
With ornamentation, a romantic notion of progression is married with the mathematical. It’s a subtle but powerful comment on how modernism often exists through a reflection—and a shift—of what came before.  A common name for a glide reflection is also termed a “walk” (referencing the placement of foot prints). Too fitting when applied here since the future is reached by moving forward and clothes are given life when we step into them—walking them into our daily lives. 

Taking an abstract form, it’s unclear what the embellished figures actually are. Commas? Amorphous blobs, matter from the depths of the lake? Fish? (Look at the orginal lake reflection from image 1, right-side up.)  While they are meant to be ambiguous, it's interesting to note that some are actual transplants from educational geometry texts.

Regardless, their movement on cloth is significant and relates to the idea of the mirror itself, which is re-iterated on the walls and ceiling of the venue. As the models walked along the circular, winding space, their reflections appeared and disappeared in a serial repetition. It was a dizzying experiment, exploring yet confusing the possibilities of time and space. 

This fixation on reflective surface can be seen in the presentation spaces throughout Simons' design history-- from his own menswear, to work at Jil Sander, and now at Dior.

M.C. Escher, Hand with Reflecting Sphere, 1935 | Raf Simons SS99
Revolving mirrored panels at Raf Simons FW09 | Dior SS15 couture detail
M.C. Escher, Print Gallery, 1956 | Jil Sander NYC flagship store, co-designed by Germaine Kruip, 2008

IRL we use mirrors to look at ourselves. Whether it's for the sake of vanity or understanding, it's a form of self-evaluation. Mirrors allow us to figure out who we are as well as who we want to become. This possibility of self-transformation goes hand-in-hand with clothing, as it can do the same. When we change our clothes we change ourselves.

And who understands the art of transforming more than David Bowie? Raf admittedly looked to Bowie’s chameleon quality as an inspiration for the collection. With 40 years of tireless creation, new sound and new personas under his belt, he embodies the true spirit of effortless change. 

Applying Bowie’s knack for masterful self-reinvention, Simons aimed to reinvent the classical Dior woman (through transreflection) while simultaneously pushing the boundaries of couture and its inherent codes of tradition (in the style of 1960s futurist couturiers). 

To tie together this idea of reaching modernity, another important geometric design motif is used. 

The rings that are melded onto dress bodices and interwoven and linked through hair are not ordinary. Upon closer inspection, they subtly twist into curious form known as the Mobius strip.

Maybe you made the classic paper version as a kid? You start with a simple rectangular strip of paper (note that it obviously has two sides), give it a half-twist, and then tape the ends together. What you end up with is a never-ending loop surface with now one side, one edge. Its inside is its outside. Front is back. 

How does this apply to reinvention, past/future?

1. Transformation occurred through using its own structure (same way in fashion design where you look at its history for new design reference).
2. It can form a figure 8 infinity sign and is an endless cycle (so is fashion). 

3. It's history can be re-created further by cutting along its middle line into thirds to produce two separate yet linked forms.
Grand finale sequin boots | Chambliss Giobbi, Mobius Beltway, 2013

The Mobius has also appeared in commercial corporate logos. Raf has subverted corporate logos in his menswear past (SS 2003, an exploration of consumerism).  And now for his namesake, concurrent FW 2015 collection, a graffitied coat showed a Raf self-portrait wearing a scarlet  8 on his sleeve. Past, near-past, past-future—where does it end, where does it begin?

Seems as though the Mobius' grid-like "topology" is deconstructed (with M.C. Escher's 1954 engraving in mind) and given new life.  On dramatic flared skirts, grid informs pleating and the circling of embroidered striped ribbon. In true Raf form, the end product is nothing short of a beautiful abstraction; complex and considered, yet always grounded in a commercial reality.

While couture is a very specific reality, tailor-made for a very privileged elite, in three short years at Dior (this being the 6th couture collection), Raf has managed to strip back couture's usual air of stuffy and haughty excess. Gone is a precious and untouchable woman. In her place is an independent one who seeks emotional (albeit luxurious) clothes that show strength and intelligence. 

In a trippy experiment of time travel and reflection, Simons' ultimate suggestion is that time and creation are cyclical and never-ending. His erotic liberation of the Dior woman occurs as past and future are in a constant dialogue with one another. The dependence and tension between the two become a visual structure of the collection, as modernity comes from a backwards glance and an altered nostalgia relevant for the present time. 

Similarly (or better yet retrospectively) Christian Dior's 1947 "New Look" followed a similar path. His offering of wasp-waists, padded hips and sumptuous flowing skirts wasn't exactly new, but a revival and reconfiguration of the past. The past being the kind of Belle Epoque silhouettes Dior's mother used to wear. It felt shockingly new and was dubbed as a global fashion revolution because its proposition was so relevant for a post-war Paris that had been outfitted in military uniform and utility-fashion. The New Look's opulent hyper-femininity had not been seen for years because of brutal wartime restrictions and shortages on clothing. If a fashion revolution occurred it was because of Dior's astute, reactionary vision that time called for change. Fashion worth celebrating requires this kind of zeitgeist intuition, which Simons himself has undoubtedly demonstrated.

It’s not an easy feat at a time when fashion becomes meme the minute it is modeled on the catwalk and risks becoming stale by the time it enters the shops. The fact is that fashion's immediacy is also its death. This collection happened to embrace that fact and turn it into a poetic notion.

And so the visual metaphor of the tail-eating ouroboros symbol comes to mind. 
MC Escher, Dragon, 1952 | Ouroborous “all is one” illustration, c. 2nd century AD. 

With origins tracing back to ancient Egypt, the ouroboros is a symbol of eternal progress and evolution. Portrayed as a snake or dragon, it devours its own tail to sustain its life in a constant cycle of renewal and rebirth. It's an emblem of infinity and often appears as a figure 8 (like in M.C. Escher's depiction).  

Writer/poet, Wole Soyinka has made a connection between the Mobius and the ouroboros as a philosophy of the "eternal return." Etienne Galle, a French translator of his work, explains:  

"Truth is made up of contradictions in the Mobius strip as in the ouroboros...the cyclical pattern...the repetitiveness is not a sameness but a re-creation uniting the old and the new in continuity."

This reflexive "return," the flowing of backward and forward, is the transition to new progress. It's a process comparable to the beast that is the fashion cycle. We may be in a post-trend universe, but fashion will forever continue to look back on itself in its search for newness. References aren't optional, they are the framework of creation as mutation. The present is the focus, but it's up to designers to retrieve and recombine. Foresight might just be something that has been with them all along.
Steve Ditko's Dr. Strange from Strange Tales #138, November 1965 | Passage from Wole Soyinka's A Shuttle in the Crypt, 1972 | Final lyric of David Bowie's "Moonage Daydream" (which was Raf's title for this couture collection) 

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