For Autumn/Winter 2011, we saw another slant on Simons' celebrated re-imagining of mid-century haute couture.
Raf Simons' spring Jil Sander collection, all rainbow colour and voluminous shapes, elicited such an immense response, it was quite natural for him to continue in the same vein. Then again, each of Simons' considered, thoughtful collections have always jigsawed perfectly into one another. This isn't a case of a designer chasing the quick buck or instant editorial approval - it's the mood Simons is feeling for today.
So for Autumn/Winter 2011, we saw another slant on Simons' celebrated re-imagining of mid-century haute couture. This time, that cocooning, Balenciaga-inspired curvilinear tailoring was focussed by and large above the waist - the capacious tent-dresses of spring became short jackets and coats in black or bright primaries, cropped at the sleeve and belling into crisp volume at the back. Some emphasised their curve with thick martingale belts - one in bubbly evergreen cloque seemed like a simple three-button blazer from the front, only revealing the tucks and folds of geodesic fullness as the model turned. Sometimes, Simons emphasised that volume to the max, pumping duchesse satin with down and chopping it into Michellin Man tulip skirts and stand-away tunics. These had a direct reference not only to couture, via Charles James' celebrated duvet-padded opera coat, but to Sander's own 1998 collection of padded wool skirts and tunics. Clever.
To emphasise the volume above, Simons streamlined the silhouette below and beneath, dressing his models in neat apres-ski knitwear with attached snoods in rainbow-bright hues, and tucking their legs into attenuated stirrup-pants that pulled tight through a specially-engineered hole in the wedge of his boots. It's those tiny details that make all the difference, in a vision as sleek and perfectly-designed as this.
Simons quoted Louise Dahl-Wolfe imagery as inspiration, and the clothes had the pin-neat perfection and still-startling modernism of an Alexey Brodovitch issue of Harper's Bazaar. Brodovitch's editor, Carmel Snow, famously loved Balenciaga with a burning passion. You couldn't help but feel she would have loved this collection too - not only because Simons' clothes drew on Balenciaga for aesthetic inspiration, but because his garments were created in the same mindset. Likewise, Mona Von Bismarck, a woman who took to her bed for three days after the master retired and declared a certain part of her life was over. She even had her gardening clothes made by Balenciaga: perhaps the inspiration behind Simons' playful, chintz-strewn separates?
Enough with the retro referencing, because despite all the history that went into Simons' clothes, this Jil Sander didn't seem old-fashioned at all. Imagine Concorde Couture, clothes composed of strict, ergonomic and go-faster lines for the life of the contemporary woman. The soundtrack segued from Hitchcock to hip-hop, the models had neon-red lips and chignons whorled into a cross between a walnut-whip and a crash-helmet. This was about the future of retro, taking the old and fashioning something entirely new. It was mesmerising to watch. It will be to wear, too.