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Raf Simons' new femininity

“If you want to be happy for a lifetime, be a gardener” is a statement that rings true for Raf Simons and his ever-blossoming garden of Dior. Flowers and the natural world are recurrent themes for the Belgium designer ever since he took over the helm of the French house in 2012. On the morning of Dior's autumn/winter 14 show, we reflect on the tropical hothouse of last season and look to the future of the Dior woman.

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For Dior spring/summer 14, Raf Simons rolled up his sleeves, pulled on his gardening gloves and transformed Paris’ Rodin Museum into a tropical hothouse. Trailing wisteria, Birds of Paradise and exotic vines sprouted in acid bright hues all around, and the air was hot and humid. As guests pushed their way through the tumbling psychedelic foliage to take their seats, it was like stumbling into a Goan trance rave minutes after the last partygoers had finally slunk off home. This season Raf had fallen down the rabbit hole and nothing was as it seemed...

Classic Dior shapes such as the Bar Jacket were cut and spliced with acid bright florals, the pleats on dresses were turned on their head, while a metallic pink bustier and strapless silver jacquard dress gave the collection a futuristic sci-fi edge. Raf has long explored youth codes in his own label to culture defining effect, and it was fascinating to see the same principles worked into a luxury house like Dior. ‘Alice garden’, ‘the ultra violet moment’ and ‘hyperrealness in the daytime’ were a few of the mind-boggling words stitched dramatically across bustier dresses and tops. As the girls marched purposefully down the catwalk with gold eyebrows and slicked back hair they looked like pioneers of a secret cult or sect. We caught up with Raf to find out more.

This season you designed for “a distinct new tribe, sophisticated and savage.” How did the two disciplines combine?
I wanted an idea of the future, a new femininity. I wanted to feel that you wouldn’t know quite where these women were coming from and where they were going to, that they exist in a new place of change and possibility. This collection is more futuristic. It is not that I wanted to do a ‘space’ collection; it was the idea of twisting, turning and pushing Dior. There is the idea of the artificial and the real, the past and the future, and the new women who inhabit this world.

So many references run through your collections from art, to literature, to music - how much research do you do?
Our research process at Dior is continuous; we have so many collections to complete each becomes part of an overall story . I suppose I start more from an abstract feeling, rather than a direct reference; an idea has to feel right for me, for this moment in time. Christian Dior had a serious interest in art and so do I; he had an interest in flowers and the natural world and so do I; the period he was working in – the mid- century – is one of my great obsessions, it’s a style I instantly relate to.

There’s a tangible emotion to everything you do?
Firstly, you have to care about what you are doing. If you don’t care about the clothes then nobody else will! So that emotion exists from the beginning. I want people to care about the clothes that they are wearing and for them to be able to live their lives in them. This is a big part of the thinking behind the haute couture especially. There is an emotion in couture like nothing else because of the special bond between the people who make the clothes and the people who wear them. One person will work on a couture dress throughout the entire process; they will then fit and dress the girl for the show or the client who buys it. It is the emotion of a human relationship that you can feel in our clothing.

Does your women change each season?
I am not just thinking of one woman each season but many – or a woman who sees herself in many different ways. I have never wanted the Dior woman to be too closed off. She is human; she is many different things and will naturally grow and change over time as a person does. Like the people who buy the clothes!

How has your aesthetic developed since you were appointed?
For me, the house of Christian Dior represents a freedom from restrictions. That’s what its history is rooted in and that’s how it feels for me personally too. It has freed me to try different things and experiment aesthetically. Although my aesthetic is still my aesthetic, Dior has enabled me to show other sides to the things I like.

You’ve said before that you want the past to collide with the future, in what way?
Each of the collections I have done for Dior have this feeling, but the spring/summer 14 in particular has the feeling of the future colliding with the past! The finale looks were more connected to the look of 50s Dior, yet they were ours. They were the looks echoing much of the beginning of my time here, particularly the first haute couture collection. So there are the bustier dresses and the Bar shapes... Much was made in the specially structured silver jacquard. It was the same idea of industrial structures with falling plants as the show venue. They are like 50s Dior dresses embroidered with flowers but dipped in liquid metal in the year 2080.

Slogans such as ‘hyperrealness in the daytime’ and ‘the ultra violet moment’ were genius additions to dresses and tops, where did the words come from?
I worked on all the slogans with a member of my team – and we drove ourselves mad thinking about them! The phrases are invented rather than found. I liked the idea of using words that particularly expressed new ideas of colour and nature, of the artificial and the real. Words always hold a great deal of power for me on clothing and I have frequently used them throughout my career. This season I wanted to create an extra layer to the narrative. They had to look and feel right.

What about the badges and insignia?
I have always been interested in codes of clothing and what they signify, from school uniforms to cocktail gowns. The spring/summer 14 finale was a proposal to dress for a soiree in a smoking, cocktail or evening dress. All of the looks had a badge, an insignia, like a sect or a spaceship crew. The badges all have elements of Dior like houndstooth, Lily of the Valley, a rose... They belong to a new group of Dior women.

How would you like to see women interpreting the collection?
I would like women to feel a sense of freedom, to ultimately wear it the way she would like to and incorporate it with her own personal style. Do you think the Dior customer has changed since you started? It is always good to introduce new things to new people with a brand, to talk to a new generation as well as an existing one. Both are equally important, there should not be too many restrictions on either side.

What is your favourite piece from the collection?
I like the text dresses. I was trying to think of a name for them, so I called them ‘Transporters’. They have their own story and it really is the story of the show and the collection.

What do you think is the future of fashion?
There doesn’t seem to be any getting away from it, clothing!

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