Dontcha just hate goodbyes? Especially sad ones. True to form, Raf Simons' last show as designer at Jil Sander was understated and chic. And, as expected, the audience descended into 1940's schmaltz and had a Casablanca moment. We bid farewell. And there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
There were two shows. At the end of the first, security guards quickly took position after Raf's (brief) curtain call, signaling that no one would get backstage. (Generally there would be a rush of fans eager to congratulate him). The audience were having none of it, stood to attention and stamped their feet until the designer made an unprecedented re-appearance.....in tears.
At the second show, one model was so overcome, she did her finale catwalk lap shielding her face with the back of her hand. Raf waved good bye, leaving the mournful audience, to retreat to the street and be swallowed up by the incongruous hubub of Milanese enjoying the Lenten carnival.
The cause of all this upset? Simons, the prodigious young Belgian designer, who propelled the rudderless house of Jil Sander back to the premier league of Milan fashion week, has, by some inscrutable management manoeuvre, lost his job....... to Jil Sander.
The 66 year old German mega-designer founded the business but also left it, twice, swearing never to return. A highly respected talent, she is a rarity: a creative powerhouse with a Midas touch in the sales department. Wherever she has directed her considerable skills, whether it be to the global high street, as in her collaboration with Uniqlo, or to the luxury label that bears her name, she has attracted success. With her second comeback, fashion gets its own Frank Sinatra.
The vagaries of this brutal business dictate that, in spite of doing a stirling job, for the moment at least, Raf is out. Across restaurant tables all over Milan, fashion editors have argued that Raf has carved a unique niche for the house of Jil Sander with his cool, minimalist elegance; with presentations that stand apart, stripped of gimic and hype; and with clothes that stand head and shoulders above the rest for their gentle authority and quiet chic.
The business community counters that Raf Simons' collections have never sold in anything like the numbers Jil Sander's did. The magazine community fights back, arguing that Raf could never have succeed when the management is notoriously slack in providing the support it takes to compete in today's highly competitive luxury market.
Whatever the truth of the situation, the simple fact is that Raf Simons' gorgeous fondant coloured double cashmere opera coats, the shift dresses with origami constructed skirts, the pastel evening coats with metallic sheaths glinting underneath, the silver shoes with fluorescent highlights flashing on the sole and inky blue cocktail dress with full skirt and corseted waist were among the few things that had us checking our American Express credit limit this week.
Bereft fans have only the consolation of rumour and conjecture. At breakfast this morning, one well placed industry insider said she was sure he was about to pop up at another major house. Another, perhaps more wisely suggested, right now, maybe perhaps there is a contract lawyer, somewhere, who knows for sure what will happen next, but no one else does.
Last September the Herald Tribune reported that Raf was about to replace Stefano Pilati at YSL ( the Pilati people still insist that is not happening). Earlier this week, Raf was allegedly spotted coming out of the Paris HQ at Dior which makes about 60% of the fashion show audience certain that he is about to be named as the replacement for the disgraced John Galliano.
Only one thing is sure: Raf has the kind of talent that will be snapped up soon and let's hope its by someone who can nurture him to greatness. Goodbyes are hell. But this one won't be for long. While we dry a tear and wave a metaphorical white hanky, it's hard not to channel some more 1940's schmaltz and hum, 'I know we'll meet again some sunny day'.
by Paula Reed in Milan