Tamsin Blanchard from The Telegraph offers an in-depth review of the Dior show, including details on the production team and process, read the article here:
Tiny, brightly coloured Swarovski crystals are being painstakingly applied to models’ eyelids, one at a time, as though their vividly painted eyelids themselves are simply another accessory to be decorated, like a shoe or a jewelled bag. Some are light chartreuse, others orange or sky blue. ‘Red and orange could be nice,’ says Pat McGrath, the British make-up artist who has been in charge of painting models’ faces and lacquering their lips at Christian Dior for the past 14 years. ‘Do you like it?’ She is talking to one of her team members.
IN PICTURES: Raf Simons’s Dior debut
They decide to add in some more colours to the mix. It is all very spontaneous, although the look of the make-up would have been decided well in advance of the show. Since 8.30 this morning McGrath and her team, along with the models and her partner in crime, the hairdresser Guido Palau, and his team, have been in the backstage area of the pavilion that has been erected for the sole purpose of showing Dior’s spring/summer 13 collection. The show is not until 2.30 this afternoon, but there is a lot to do before then, not least the transformation of 53 models into what McGrath calls ‘techno butterflies’. That, she says, is her brief. ‘It’s wonderful,’ she says. ‘We are playing with lots of shimmer eyeshadow, lots of paint, lots of crystals, some matching, some clashing.’
WATCH: Raf Simons on his Dior couture debut
It is 11am and the monolithic white facade of the pavilion, which has been built in front of the Hôtel des Invalides in Paris’s 7th arrondissement - still a working hospital as well as the burial site of Napoleon Bonaparte - gives no clue as to what is going on inside. The vast architectural structure with the Dior logo at its centre is framed by a bright sky. Inside, the space has been divided into four more intimate salons, each one white and light and airy, with windows allowing you to see into the next room. Over the open windows, gauzy curtains in shades of pink, pale blue, green and yellow blow gently in the breeze after being carefully steamed to remove any creases. Rows of spindly chairs have been laid out - each one painted matt black instead of the couture gold that guests of Dior might have expected in days gone by. A seamstress at a sewing machine is busy, hidden in a corner of the pavilion, running up lengths of white curtains to partition off the backstage areas from the front of house as fast as they can be hung. Men up ladders are working on the last touches - wiring monitors, adjusting lights, putting up diagrams to show the models the route they must walk.
For Dior, whose business recorded bullish revenues of €6.9 billion for May-July 2012, this is a really big day - the start of a new chapter; the first ready-to-wear collection by the Belgian designer Raf Simons, 44, who was handed the thorny Dior crown last April. The house had spent just less than 18 months in fashion no-man’s-land since the departure of John Galliano , who was fired in March 2011 after his drunken, anti-semitic rant in a Paris bar.
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Simons showed his first haute couture collection for Dior in July. In the early 1990s he had studied industrial design and worked as an intern with one of the original ‘Antwerp Six’ designers, Walter Van Beirendonck. A self-taught menswear designer first and foremost (he launched his own menswear label in 1997 using models cast from the street in Antwerp where he was - and still is - based), Simons finessed his rigorous modernist approach towards womenswear as the head designer at Jil Sander for seven years. His work there proved popular both critically and commercially. His often-skewed vision of modern luxury has included making everyday carrier bag shapes out of leather and clear plastic, and giving clothes for both day and eveningwear his own pared-back, minimalist spin. His appointment at Dior signified a clean break for the house, a totally new direction away from the historical romance and endlessly researched complex narratives that were often the thread that held Galliano’s technically spectacular collections together. For Dior, Raf (fashion insiders like to refer to him simply by his first name) is the future.
COMMENT: The future looks bright for Dior thanks to Raf Simons
Back in the hair and make-up area, the hair team has an easier task than the make-up. There are three monster-sized suitcases, each filled with hair pieces in every shade imaginable. But the models’ hair itself is as clean and simple as it is possible to be - a beautiful, sleek ponytail just above the nape of the neck. The hair pieces will simply ensure everyone is fairly uniform in length. ‘It is very minimal, very unreferenced,’ Guido Palau says. The clothes have yet to arrive from Dior’s ateliers on avenue Montaigne off the Champs-Elysées, but Palau, who surprises himself with how much he has to say about the ponytail, gives a clear idea of the woman Simons has in mind. ‘The ponytail is about the future but not futuristic. It indicates a forward-thinking kind of woman.’ Palau says his role is to support Simons in his vision. ‘It’s assured, confident, graphic. It’s not frilly. She’s very strong.’
At 11.50am food arrives. The production team and models, many with their other-worldly bejewelled eyes, gather around the table. During Fashion Week, days are long and you never know when you might next have a chance to eat. And contrary to popular thinking, models do eat. As she munches on a dainty vegetable wrap, one model tells me the crystals feel as if she has a face mask on round her eyes. There are slices of raw vegetables, little towers of sandwiches held together with cocktail sticks, small pots of quinoa salad, and bite-size rolls filled with foie gras. In front of the food table there is a makeshift studio set up with a photographer taking pictures of the models in their strange state of civilian clothing and full make-up. Sunglasses are being heated and carefully moulded to fit the models’ faces.
The man in charge of the production of the show is Alex de Betak, whose company, Bureau Betak, will produce 14 shows this season in New York and Paris. De Betak has a headset permanently attached and a stopwatch around his neck. There is a constant conversation going on in his ear as he prepares for the rehearsal. One of his team is busy walking small groups of models through the rooms to brief them on the route they will have to take to ensure that every guest in the four rooms - all 1,500 of them - gets to see each outfit. Everyone has to wear white overshoes to stop them making the pristine Dior grey carpet dirty. As they snake their way around the venue, they pass the programmes, which are being neatly placed on every chair, each one beautifully handwritten with the name of a guest, from Sidney Toledano, Dior’s president, to the celebrity clothes horse and H&M designer Anna dello Russo, the photographer Cindy Sherman, who has a show in Paris, the Chinese actor Yu Xia, Kanye West, Robert De Niro, Azzedine Alaïa, Christopher Kane and his sister, Tammy.
At 12.27pm the milliner Stephen Jones arrives. Jones is part of the Dior furniture. He has worked for the house for 16 years. Simons is not someone you might associate with hats. Jones has created a series of beautiful blowsy neck bows out of silk gazar in red, black and pale pink which, he explains, is a couture fabric and very difficult to work with. He also came up with the idea to put veils under the sunglasses. ‘Raf loves veiling. He doesn’t say “wow”, he just nods. He’s not one to waste his words. He is very succinct, clean and clear, like the clothes.’
At 12.40pm Simons appears. He is wearing a pair of dark blue suit trousers with a blue shirt and a navy jumper and denim jacket over the top, which turns out to be a bit of a vintage number from 1996 by the king of minimalism, Helmut Lang. Along with Martin Margiela (a fellow Belgian, one of the Antwerp Six who changed the course of fashion with his deconstructed inside-out and back-to-front raw-edged clothes in the early 1990s), Lang was a big influence on Simons with his uncompromising modernist collections. Simons is tall and slim, almost gangly, with dark eyebrows and a boyish look about him. He looks very calm, relaxed and happy, greeting Palau and having a chat, before kissing de Betak on both cheeks. They all take their places on seats reserved for press and VIPs, Simons with his right-hand man, Pieter Mulier, and Michel Gaubert, who is responsible for the music. Music is an important element for Simons, who grew up listening to records from his local record shop in Neerpelt - his early purchases included Bob Marley and Kraftwerk.
Backstage there is a flurry of activity as the girls are given the shoes they will wear in the show. They are very high, with a comma-shaped heel and very fine straps fixing them to the feet in a range of acid, metallic and bright colours not dissimilar to the technicolour eye make-up. And then the music starts: heart-vibrating, relentlessly electronic techno house. It sounds as if we are in a nightclub, which is Simons’s intention. The first girl, Daria Strokous, strides down the runway, a natural in the shoes with her oversized mustard jumper and skinny leather jeans. The rest of the girls follow, walking through the empty salons as the team tap their feet to the music and Simons jumps up every now and again to talk to one of the models or to adjust a curtain that is getting in the way. By 13.12 the rehearsal is over.
By 2pm, half an hour before the show is due to start, the guests start to arrive and take their seats. According to the programme notes, Simons will explore ‘themes of liberation’ and rework the Dior classics the Bar jacket and Ligne A dress.
At 15.01 the atmosphere vibrates as the music kicks in and the show begins, and in fewer than 15 minutes it’s all over. Sidney Toledano leads the surge backstage, and within minutes Raf Simons is hidden behind a mob of well-wishers, camera crews, fashion editors and photographers. As Simons and the media frenzy move outside the tent into the open air, the team of dressers are busy packing up the clothes, wrapping the future of Dior in cellophane bags and boxing up 53 pairs of exquisite shoes.
A huge cheer erupts from the hair and make-up area, and models crowd around mirrors, rubbing the crystals from their eyes ready for their next appointment. It has been a memorable day for Dior. The slate has been wiped clean.
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