Christian Dior, SS16, Paris.
After the recent news that Raf Simons would no longer be the artistic director at Dior (for women’s RTW, Haute Couture and accessories), it seemed a fitting time to celebrate the fineness of the construction details in his last collection for Spring-Summer 2016. After all, it’s possible that not everyone heard the news that Simons was leaving Dior and felt saddened by the thought that in future there may be a little less bust dart inspiration in the world.
In many ways, when thinking about Simons’ time at Dior it seems apt to think about the quote from Constantin Brancusi that “Simplicity is complexity resolved”. There are many times over the past few seasons where he has given us garments that seem peaceful, even when the construction methods involved would be anything but easy to carry out. Simons himself described the Spring-Summer 2016 collection as a search for purity, but it could be argued that this push for restraint has run under all his collections at Dior as a honed concept of construction. While the design theme for each season obviously changed in tone and mood, the push for the bare essentials in the actual construction of the garments has resulted in garments that often felt light and serene even when the pattern making and sewing methods used to create them were undoubtedly difficult and complex.
From a pattern making point of view, this push for simplicity has often driven all unnecessary darts to be smoothed away into seams or shaped panel lines while maintaining a perfect fit. In other collections, this occurred even at times when the seam lines were shifted away from the apexes of the body. Here in the Spring-Summer 2016 collection, the fit value was often shifted into panels that were shaped in a scalloped design, and when darts were needed, they were cut to blend into the curves of a scalloped hem or neckline. Or hidden along the edge of a stripe in a sheer fabric. Or calculated so that the adjacent stripes of the fabric would still match with the adjoining panels.
Pattern making techniques were also vital in creating the endless new interpretations of the classic Dior “Bar” jacket that appeared over the last few seasons, with waist shaping often created through soft tucks or shaped panels. In the Spring-Summer 2016 collection, the tailored jackets often became softly unravelled at the edges, falling away into pleated hems. Jackets were also occasionally cut with the pinstripes on the cross grain to subvert the stripe direction typically used for suiting, or possibly this effect was created with fabric where the contrast lines were specially woven as a horizontal stripe.
Pleating has also been used repeatedly throughout Simons’ collections at Dior with variations in vibrant colours, or in minute pintucks beside historical silhouettes. In this collection they were often used to give soft texture to garments by being used in different scales and different directions. At other times they were also used as a fit device, transitioning from being compressed around waistlines to releasing up over bustlines.
One element that was missing or only barely used in this collection was embellishment, which has often been a feature of other collections. In Simons’ version of Dior, the embellishment didn’t have that encrusted, over-worked quality that can sometimes make beading and embroidery come off as dated. Instead his use of embellishment was sometimes layer upon layer of shredded chiffon, or beading layered under sheer fabric cutouts, or tiny feathers. His use of embellishment at Dior was often characterised by a sophisticated use of colour, a use of repetition and lots of blank fabric to give the embellishment breathing space.
In the Spring-Summer 2016 collection, with the endless layers of white-on-white fabric and scalloped panel lines it was actually almost as though the seam allowance became the embellishment. Perfect borders of seam allowance were constantly visible in the white and sheer fabrics, creating narrow outlines that highlighted every seam and every dart. The idea of focusing on a pure “line” in garments was Simons’ reference to Christian Dior’s search for new design lines and new silhouettes, but in this collection the idea of the clean “line” also seemed to apply down to every last seam line.
It says a lot about Simons’ time at Dior that seam allowance could be talked about in this way, but it acts as a good indication of how much he has stripped away frou-frou in favour of pure construction. There is even a moment in the documentary “Dior and I” where a member of the atelier is talking about how Simons has asked for less volume in the dresses, and undoubtedly on some of these garments it is far more difficult to shape the silhouette and create volume using less materials, and with less embellishment to hide behind.
While many designers seem to believe that “lots of visible work” = “very good, very expensive garment”, Simons just doesn’t seem to suffer from this affliction. With the obviously skilled hands at Dior he has often been able to create lighter, sheerer, cleaner garments where only the necessary elements remain and which surely must also feel lighter and more wearable to the Dior client.
Images from Vogue.co.uk»