There is a lot you can tell about a person by the way they behave in airports. The pushing and shoving, barefoot queuing and ritual humiliation are the realities of travel for most of us. But you would not expect to find one of the most talked about designers of the day in a departures lounge, let alone submitting to a public patting down. The most successful fly the company’s mink lined jet. The rest are somehow beamed up from the lounge to seat 1A without ever having to share oxygen with the rest of us in Duty Free.
In February 2012, fashion had no hotter topic than Raf Simons. I have a dim recollection of 30,000,000 results on Google back then (today it’s spiked at 58,000,000). He had just presented his last collection for Jil Sander and had reluctantly been forced onto the runway to take a tearful bow by the strength of the applause that was still going strong after 5 minutes. He was the man of the moment, man of the month, the man most fashion editors would KILL to interview. And as we wound our weary way home at the end of the Italian Collections, there he was….. in the café at Milan airport!!
After his swan song at Sander he had made a brief and unexpected appearance at Christopher Kane’s show for Versus, prompting another flurry of (wildly inaccurate) rumours that he was about to take over at Versace (!?!). After that, no one expected to see him, at least until the speculation about his next move died down.
So when we (three fellow fashion editors and I) schlumped into our seats for some microwaved pasta and a swift wine, it didn’t dawn on us that the man sitting opposite and alone was HIM. There was no security, no PR, no minders, no entourage of any sort. There was just a pile of hand luggage and a raincoat and a half finished glass of something. It wasn’t until he stood up to say ’ hi’ to come men in suits that we realised it was indeed the most wanted man in fashion.
Thinking he was probably stressed beyond polite conversation we came over a bit shy. But as we were paying, and since he was at the table tucked in behind the cash register, it seemed rude not to say something. ‘Congratulations Raf on an amazing show. You’ve given us all so many gorgeous things to look at. Best of luck with whatever happens next. Hope you have some time for a rest.’ ‘That’s really nice of you,’ he said.’ I was so touched by everyone’s kindness to me. Have a safe flight.’ And then he waved us off.
So you may well be wondering what a snatched conversation gives us to go on, in terms of anticipating his first collection for Dior. But I think it speaks volumes. One day he was seducing an unprecedently warm response from one of the toughest audiences in the world with work that was universally praised as the highlight of Milan fashion week. The next, he was nursing the biggest secret in the business and sipping coke in a café with the girls in the cheap airline seats with the shoulder strap of his hand luggage wrapped around the leg of the table, just like the rest of us.
Dior may be the bastion of the’ jolie bourgeoise’, the uniform of ladies with limousine lifestyles, who lunch on lettuce leaves and have daily appointments with their hairdresser, but expect Raf Simons to throw the windows open wide and let a fresh breeze of modernity blow through. Expect a lack of pretention and a celebration of simplicity. Expect clothes that belong in wardrobes, not on pedestals. Expect a deep respect for the heritage of the house of Dior and an understanding of luxury. But expect impatience with the frilly trappings of over produced events and celeb-tastic front rows: probably a lot more Tilda Swinton and a lot less Katy Perry. Expect an evolving look to take the place of flashy trends. Expect to save baroque sums to pay for deceptively simple clothes because the designer will worry about how to make things better not brasher. And expect to content yourself with knowing you are wearing the best of the best and be happy that the whole world doesn’t necessarily need to be made aware of the fact with full frontal barrage of logo’s and monograms.
The interesting challenge for the money mandarins of Dior, will be how to persuade the bling-addicted new rich of the all-important emerging economies to think that is ok too. But, as Raf told WWD, 'when I'm married to a house, I will fully embrace its original intention, its original heritage and meaning. I wouldn't go to that place [Dior] if I only had minimalism in mind. I'm very aware of what that environment is about.'
Expect one of France’s oldest and most respected ladies of luxury to get a facelift, one that reminds you why you loved it in the first place.
- Paula Reed