Listen to this article
“I wasn’t going to explain it this time,” said Raf Simons, deep into an explanation of his powerful Autumn/Winter 2016 show, which marked the 20th anniversary of his label. It was also his first since quitting the post of creative director of womenswear at Christian Dior. Unusually for Simons, a press release was handed out before the show, so it was clear it was going to be about Twin Peaks, Cindy Sherman, The Breakfast Club as well as his own past work. And yet backstage after the show, he talked, perhaps because it is all stuff worth talking about.
The collection was a knockout in both fashion and sellable product. It confirmed the tailored coat as the big story of the season, here oversized and in black or a variety of tweeds. For fashion, there is massive quilted coats or oversized V-neck varsity sweaters, destroyed as if by moths. Not just a bit oversized, they were supersized, like a 10-year-old wearing an adult XL. There were no seats, everyone had to stand, the set was a maze, models walked round at least twice: it was unsettling and transporting, a rare feat.
The press release was in the form of a list, some of it clear — Martin Margiela was cited — others more opaque. Simons said the reference to Margiela was about the number of times he kept coming back to the work of the fellow Belgian, most obvious in his plays with scale. The word “horrors” on the list referred to the title of a Cindy Sherman retrospective which has been touring institutions worldwide. Simons said he had long been a fan of Sherman and the title of the show fascinated him. “I always think about nightmares,” he said. “I’m always interested in horror movies.” He referred to “making beautiful things and having this beautiful simple life and something goes wrong, something’s weird, something’s dark.”
Can we talk about the soundtrack? It started with Angelo Badalamenti, the composer of the music for Twin Peaks, talking about his collaborative process with David Lynch. Impartiality declared: Twin Peaks pretty much defined my late adolescence. As the models walked, Badalamenti described how he collaborated with Lynch. As Badalamenti said those words, you could have wiped me off the floor. Later in the soundtrack was an excerpt on the making of “Just You And I”, the song James, Maddy and Donna sing together right before Maddy sees Bob climbing over a sofa and it is clear her card is marked.
“Actually, today is David Lynch’s birthday,” said Simons. “I didn’t know it. And I like to think that I’m now dedicating the show to him. It was a huge impact this whole Twin Peaks thing on my generation.” When the series was first broadcast in 1990, Simons was at university. “It was that period when I was in my own environment,” he said. “You leave your parents’ house and it’s like when you’re like, OK. And then there was this Twin Peaks thing. I don’t know how to explain the impact of Twin Peaks on my generation.”
It is also because it was pre-internet. You had to wait each week for the next episode with no spoilers or leaks. “Oh my god, yes,” he said. “And then at the end you would just sit with half the class and . . . ”
Someone else asked a question and he veered off. But this obsession is the key to the success of Simons. It is his attachment to the cultish and the connection to a new idea of heritage, one that takes what happened in the ‘90s and early 2000s as seriously as any previous decade. It is what unifies and connect forty-something men his age and those younger growing up in the shadow of these recent generations.
He moved on to the name of the show. “I titled it Nightmares and Dreams because we all have dreams and we all have nightmares,” he said. “There are always amazing things and there are always horrible things, for each individual and people in general. Not that I want to go heavy, it’s not about that.” Obviously there are things that change in this moment for me because of certain decisions that I’m making, but at the end it’s not that it has to be a heavy explanation for that.” It was clear he was referring to his exit from Dior. That is done. Let’s move on.
Earlier in the day, the first jolt of the Paris shows came from the catwalk debut of Off-White, the label of Virgil Abloh. It was a great big step in the movement that posits streetwear as fashion. Sure, Abloh showed the printed T-shirts that made his name but what struck here was the excellent tailoring and the clash of ideas.
The opening look was a knee-length black coat over a black suit. A white shirt was beneath a black zip in place of the tie. On the feet, black sneakers. Later in the show, a nubbly tweed-unlined coat went almost to the floor, worn over a suit of the same cloth. Beneath was a black zip-up. It was one of the most pleasing looks of the season so far.
“How do I add a new chapter,” he said afterwards, “which is like post-ready to wear, now that streetwear is considered fashion.” He did so by creating tension between the tailoring and the T’s, printed with the brand’s go-faster stripes. Some provisos: the use of grommets puncturing clothes, metal hoops as zip-pulls and a long coat line were reminiscent of current season Raf Simons. No matter: it felt more a testament to the power of that collection from Simons. It was clear that Abloh has a language that will evolve very much as his own.
Making his debut in Paris was clearly a big deal for Abloh and for what it means for his brand and his community. “It’s the culture around it,” he said. “It’s the lineage of kids. Behind me there’s plenty. There’s tonnes from New York, there’s tonnes from LA. It’s a crew of designers, it’s not just me. I was just fortunate enough to be one of the early ones to extend it.” Exciting times.
For more reports from the shows, go to our fashion weeks page on FT.com