Only those with no memory insist on their originality. That's an aphorism of Coco Chanel, but it could have fallen from the lips of Raf Simons as summary of his Spring 2012 collection for Jil Sander. Certainly, Simons was in retrospective mood, slicing apart fragments of post-war sartorial codes and patchworking them back together.
Ironically, that in itself is not new - fashion has been openly obsessed with revival for at least twenty years. What was different was that this collection seemed like it was about the process itself, rather than just the results. Simons chose not to refine his hybrids, instead letting clashing elements fight for attention across his garments. Tailoring suctioned close to the body or ignored it entirely. Shorts spoke of summer, but were worn under thick sweaters and the oiled surfaces of eel-skin blazers or capacious rainwear in transparent plastic, hair plastered to his models' heads like English schoolboys caught in a July downpour. Fabrics were rinsed entirely of colour - forget his rich autumnal hues, or the fluoro synthetics of last spring. This was every shade of black - blackened brown, aubergine and the darkest green imaginable. Easy, sporty bags were trussed like nooses around the neck, bondage-belted with elasticated toggles like postmodern fetish-gear. Simons called them 'urban scout wear' - but crafted from python, they and the hefty bovver boots that bottomed every look undermined any stab at utilitarian. That's not a criticism: it was undoubtedly Simons' intention.
That's the thrill with Simons. Everything is done with absolute intent, and absolute certainty. Any student of postmodernism will recognise that Simons' bricolage is part and parcel of our times, but rarely is it articulated this succinctly and openly. This is what popular culture has been doing for half a century - Simons has looked at it before, but this time it felt like we went deeper. Rather than appropriating a character from the past - a lazy rehash of 'rocker', 'punk', 'mod' or any of those other references so often regurgitated, barely masticated, by the fashion system - Simons transformed his disparate references into a sythesis for the here and now.
Simons' intense intellectual curiosity is the really exciting this about Jil Sander. And, as ever, there was a beauty in the strangeness of those proportions. They looked new - and that isn't a word you can use very often (or at least very honestly) in contemporary fashion. It's not by chance that people will attach the label 'difficult' to this collection. Simons' last few collections for Sander have proved easy to digest - critically, editorially and commercially. This one lodged in the throat - but the Heimlich Manoeuvre is what fashion needs to take it to the next level.