Send out a white-embossed business card as an invitation to a fashion show and you're fairly certain of conjuring the spectre of fashion's greatest victim, American Psycho antihero Patrick Bateman. A man obsessed with designer labels, with the superficial, the surface, the desire to fit in. The very antithesis of Jil Sander's Raf Simons then. Nevertheless, Bateman was the unlikely, undeniable - but it must be added, unstated - inspiration behind Simons' Autumn/Winter 2012 Jil Sander collection, a point made abundantly clear when the first models strode out with hair greased-back, clad in black leather like a new breed of New Wave Masters Of The Universe.
If all that leather and grease sounds kinky and sexy, it wasn't in the slightest: Simons' vision was sinister, hard and brutal. Robert Mapplethorpe's photography avoided the pornography debate due to its cold detachment from scenes of sexual excess: the fetish connotations of Simons' fine-boned boys' bodies frotting against all that shiny shiny leather was equally stripped of the salacious and salubrious. That's no mean feat - and nothing to be overlooked.
Leather was omnipresent, yes, but omnipotent too. A swirling leather trench belted over a double-breasted leather suit and pointed oxford brogues was the uniform, a black leather sack - part lunch-bag, part bin-liner - clutched in a black leather-clad fist. Sometimes, however, that leather wasn't what it appeared to be. Kidskin occasionally gave way to the glisten of cire satin, vinyl or PVC, coated wool suiting and waxed cotton, often mixed with real skin in a single outfit. What was real and what was fake? It was hard to say.
That was exactly the point Simons was aiming at articulating - this was no retro rehash. What Simons was talking about was the duality of contemporary masculinity - fashion victim aside, who embodies that more than Patrick Bateman, a man whose homicidal fantasies are thinly veiled by a mask of normalcy? When Simons' dour-faced, serial killer chic models turned on their heels, they revealed whale-embroidered kerchiefs, a sign of innocence, of fragility behind the strength of their facade. For the Bret Easton Ellis fanatics out there, of course, that whale is an American Psycho reference too, embroidered onto a child's coat - one of his early victims. Innocence destroyed, then?
Certainly, if we contrast today's hard-faced, suited-and-booted corporate raiders with the wet-behind-the-ears short-sporting schoolboys of spring, the difference is clear. This season, Simons is dressing men, not boys, a shift from his obsession with articulating the pulse of the young. Maybe he's simply in synch with the mood of formality that's emerging for Autumn/Winter 2012, but with Simons you suspect it's something deeper. Simons is one of the few fashion designers today with the skill to explore the modern masculine condition through aesthetic devices. This was a veritable treatise on the disguises men adopt to project power - from arbitrageurs and financiers to fetishists and Fascists - and how easily that sartorial dissemblance can fall to pieces.