Fashion loves a martyr. That's the role Raf Simons would be inevitably cast in for his final collection at Jil Sander. It would be lauded, he would be deified, and there would be tears. Even if they weren't shed in reality, the fashion history books would say there were tears - metaphorical or not, they're deserved. That's the way it works.
The start of Milan fashion week brought the sudden - but not exactly shocking - announcement that this show would be Raf Simons' swansong at the house. It's uncertain when the decision was made, but it evidently influenced the development of this collection. After all, his last show was pitched by Simons as the final in a trilogy of acclaimed shows exploring mid-century haute couture. At that point, Simons may have planned for this outing to pitch his talent in a different direction for Sander. Evidently, it was not meant to be.
Rather than pushing the boundaries and creating something extraordinary or forceful, Simons chose to leave Sander quietly, with grace and dignity (that word again). His whisper, however, had more power and impact than any howl. This wasn't a defining fashion moment, the way some of Simons' previous Jil Sander shows have been. It didn't feel as if he pushed us to reconsider colour, or texture, or form, although he experimented with all three. There were interesting plasticised textures, especially on the clutch of black evening gowns that closed the show. Simons' fusing of couture history with practical modernity was also striking, as in the jumpsuits with pinched and seamed bodices like forties evening gowns segueing to fluid high-rise trousers or the weightless coats with grand volume in the back and sleeve that recalled Balenciaga, clutched around the model's bodies like a fifties couture sketch. That decade too was the root of the corset-top evening gowns, and day-dresses that looked like vintage lingerie with seamed-on cable-knit sleeves, in foliate shades of magnolia, old rose and lilac. Six floral tributes stood in the middle of the catwalk (a seventh was outside - Simons has been at Sander for seven years), which pitched the mood somewhere between a wake and a wedding. Celebration or commiseration? Even in death, isn't it a presumption that you're going on to a better place?
Enough with the rhetoric. This final outing of Simons' Sander was beautiful, feminine and delicate, gloriously confirming everything that felt uncertain when he was appointed to the role from an entirely menswear-focused background. The standing ovation Simons received wasn't so much for this collection, as for everything he has accomplished at the house, and how his talent has genuinely affected the way women dress today - just as it affected a generation of men before them, too. The next question to pose isn't if, or indeed even how, but where next?