As with any sweeping trend, this one started with Rihanna. During the Fall 2014 shows, the pop songstress’ first true show season tour de force, Rihanna arrived at the Dior presentation in Paris in a showstopping slipdress paired with thigh-high stockings, dripping diamond jewelry, and donning a red furry coat to match her crimson lipstick. It was a look that caused a minor Internet riot, though while many freaked over her sultry style, the element of her outfit that really took off was the Dior So Real mirrored sunglasses perched on her visage. The reflective and bridgeless specs became an overnight sensation. Editors bought them, bloggers styled them, and Rihanna fans at home coveted them. A year later, and the style is still one of Dior’s most popular, stocked by many retailers in a variety of colours.
It was not your average night at the museum. Some 600-odd guests—a list as gilded and varied as to include Olsens Mary-Kate and Ashley, Henry Kissinger, George and Amal Clooney, Kelly Slater and Beyoncé—wound their way through the red-carpet tumult tonight (louder and more boisterous than ever, spurred on, perhaps, by the unseasonably warm evening and the high concentration of star value present) and into the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s entrance hall, dominated for tonight only by a gigantic chinoiserie vase created entirely by white and blue roses.
Up the grand staircase lined by fragrant, verdant bamboo they walked, past Vogue staffers clad in pale jade and lapis–toned Michael Kors pajamas, custom-made for the event; the biggest and boldest night on fashion’s calendar—the Met Gala.
“It is about cultural interaction, the circuits of exchange through which certain images and objects have migrated across geographic boundaries. . . . It points to the aesthetic importance of exploring all the products of our cultural fantasies,” read a plaque in one of the three floors of galleries taken over by “China: Through the Looking Glass“—some 30,000 square feet representing the past 300 years of Western fashion and several millennia of Chinese history, Andrew Bolton explained at the morning’s press conference—the largest in the Met’s history, put on with the help of honorary chair Silas Chou and cochairs Jennifer Lawrence, Gong Li, Marissa Mayer, Wendi Murdoch, and Anna Wintour.
“Ladies, ladies!” Kanye West called after the departing figures of his wife, Kim Kardashian West, and Jennifer Lopez as they walked into the fete. (There was a resulting iPhone photo-op involving two very similar dresses and two singularly appreciated rear views.)
Inside the exhibition, Julianne Moore admired a Lucite field of bamboo shielding Craig Green’s designs. “It’s so breathtaking, really,” said Moore. A headdressed Sarah Jessica Parker (“It’s fashion with a capital ‘F,’” said her date, Andy Cohen) took in a selection of qipaos before admiring the calligraphy room, housing a pair of dresses by Dior and Chanel, respectively.
A demurely sequined Cher was squired by her date, Marc Jacobs, into the cocktail party in the Temple of Dendur, where George and Amal Clooney mugged affectionately under Mario Testino’s lens and Sienna Miller and Taraji P. Henson received praise for their roles in Cabaret and Empire, respectively. Kendall Jenner shimmied for Olivier Rousteing, the pair both clad in thick lozenge-like crystal embroidery, while Justin Bieber, in sunglasses and dragon-embroidered blazer, looked on.
As the party made way for dinner, Jared Kushner had his hands full. “I’m following her around all night; she’s being paid to clean the floor,” said Kushner with a wink of his wife, Ivanka Trump, and her crowd-parting navy and white train. Gilles Mendel nodded in solidarity, “It looks beautiful now, these long trains, but you should see the dresses once we get them back.” Dinner led to a surprise performance by a late-arriving Rihanna (clad in a commotion-causing fur-lined marigold-coloured robe by Chinese designer Guo Pei) and a raucous dance party: Bad news for the trains, maybe, but if we learned anything tonight, it’s that fashion has a way of rising above.
WOW. And in one fell swoop Raf Simons redefined what modern is. And that didn’t mean sci-fi futuristic or normcore anodyne.
What it meant was an incredible collection that continued on from where his couture show started off in July and gave us historical clothes and references like we’ve never seen them before.
“I started to think ‘What is modern?'” explained Simons in his show notes. “It was an idea of confronting what people now think is an aesthetic that is modern – it felt more modern to go to the far past, not the ‘modernised’ look of the last decade.”
And in doing so he managed to make history look new and modern look old. Never have frock coats or tapestry cuffs and turn-ups looked so appealing, relevant and real.
So he borrowed – and sweetly added a “strict” accuracy disclaimer in the notes – from the Eighteenth century onwards for a collection that somehow managed to combine the French royal court with the uniforms of pilots and astronauts, school girls and skaters and make it all cool, all utterly desirable and leaving the audience, frankly, wanting more.
Court coats in bright cerise or marigold worn with skate shorts; bar jacket dresses punctuated with poppers instead of buttons on the hip; high Edwardian collars that could so easily drift into the realms of scuba wear; vest-top dresses that revived his full skirt and top combinations from his first couture season even; languid night dresses; leather-laced jackets belted on an empire line; flashes of rich embroidery here and there and just when you least expected. This was everything and more, and on paper probably shouldn’t have made sense. Yet it did – it was a revelation.
“The challenge was to bring the attitude of contemporary reality to something very historical; bringing easiness to something that could be perceived as theatrical,” elaborated Simons. “It is the attitude that matters.”
There was drama, there was character and there was fantasy here – a collection that will appeal to Dior customers old and new (everyone’s wearing those bejewelled couture trainers of his right now). And there was tangibility.
Move over normcore, Raf’s ignited a renaissance.
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Here was a moment before Raf Simons’ debut for Dior (a couture collection no less) that it all got too much. The designer stepped outside the catwalk space (as it busily filled with people and anticipation) and could no longer hold back the tears.
It’s all too easy to think that a fashion show and the clothes just happen when it comes to Fashion Week. Amid a social and style circus; a pit of flashbulbs, stars; celebrity and front row gossip; a collection struts out down a catwalk. We want to be that girl; we want that hair and make-up; and we want those clothes. It’s a grand feat of production. And it happens twice a year. But behind it, there are the designers: terrific geniuses but humans also. They have feelings, are scared and feel the pressure too. We forget that. Until you see it up close, which is exactly what Dior And I, the new fashion documentary film by Frederic Tcheng does.
“Up until that show day still I could feel his emotions but wasn’t sure if they would come across. I really wanted an emotional dimension to the film,” recalls Tcheng, who had been in talks with Dior pre-Raf about making a film following the success of his ventures with Valentino: The Last Emperor (2008) and Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel (2011). When the announcement came that Raf was the new creative director, he called straight up and said: “What should we do? I’m ready!”
And what he did was create a beautiful and emotive storytelling of that now famed first show back in July 2012 and everything you didn’t know that went on in the lead up to it.
As the film shows, Raf is actually a rather shy character – we get to know him and feel for him along the way – he has, after all, got quite the challenge ahead of him. “He was a little reluctant to be filmed. I wrote him a letter first, a director’s statement: how we would film and what interested me in the story. I was already clear that I wanted the seamstresses to play a big role in the film, the encounter between the two,” says Tcheng, viewing this as a sort of sequel – what happens when the house has to continue the legacy. The house’s former creative director, John Galliano, was famously dismissed in 2011 following a public anti-semitic rant.
Tcheng went and filmed for a test week and after being suitably quizzed by Raf and relaying that it was a down-to-earth approach he was after, he was allowed to stay on. And so all those lovely and real, heartfelt and stressful, funny and compassionate moments were captured: when Raf is introduced to the atelier for the first time; when he comes up with seemingly impossible-to-realise ideas (you’ll have to watch to find out their fate); when he’s too scared to do a finale bow circuit of the catwalk for fear he might faint; when he’s being photographed by the great and the good of fashion and film; and most poignantly when he’s being photographed post-show with his parents. Aww. Because he’s just like us too.
“For me, the process of empathy is crucial when making a film,” reflects Tcheng, who found himself personally affected. “Raf, c’est moi. I felt a strong connection with Raf’s story, our journeys were similar.” This film, the biggest and most emotive he had done yet. “Emotionally I was in a very similar place: excited, scared, overwhelmed. After two months, I felt like I had made that collection with them.”
In those two months (by comparison the Valentino documentary was filmed over two years), Tcheng ended up with over 250 hours of footage – not to mention some wonderful characters in the seamstresses and Raf’s right-hand man, an incredible insight into one of fashion’s biggest appointments and a film that really should go straight to the top of your film viewing list.