It was bound to be the story of the season. After seven years, Raf Simons has left the house of Jil Sander for…who’s to know? Reps stated that two days after the announcement Simons would be presenting his final collection for the brand and that a successor would be announced within the week. Make that 24 hours. In virtually no time it was confirmed that Jil Sander would return to her namesake line. Talk about fashion at warp speed.
And yet, there was something about Simons’ evolution at Jil Sander that heralded such a conclusion. The roaring, the applause, the standing ovation he received and the encore bow for the man that revitalized menswear and the house of Jil Sander – he probably didn’t see that coming, judging from how emotionally overwhelmed he became as he bid farewell for a second time at his curtain call. And the rest of us, how do we feel? The fashion world has suffered from outstanding creative losses in the past couple of years – the untimely death of Lee Alexander McQueen, John Galliano’s much publicized fall from grace. But Simons’ situation should and will serve as the marker for how our greats should go out: on an artistic high note, health and dignity intact.
Simons openly refers to his last three womenswear collections as his ‘couture trilogy’. He has long been transfixed by the kind of women who wear Haute Couture, and moreso than nearing a couture approach on a ready-to-wear runway (although he does that as well), Simons prefers to negotiate the day in the life of a woman who is all delicacy, refinement, grace – to work around a real life scenario for her. Like a little boy obsessed with the secret rituals of his mother, Simons’ work at Jil Sander has felt more and more like a way of explaining things from his childhood that stuck with him – a way to define his curiosity – pumping blood back into the veins of, if archetypal, femininity.
If a fashion stint is to be measured by Shakespearean terms, an exit after his much lauded spring collection, with the envisioning of the Jil Sander bride, would’ve qualified as a departure steeped in the Logos – departing with order intact. A comedy – in other words. That this fall collection, with its ghostly light touch, its dream-kissed softness, its quiet melancholy, should be Simons’ final word on the Jil Sander matter – that kind of emotion is not easy to prepare for.
It was exceedingly cinematic. Models navigated a runway with standing pillars that held floral bouquets encased in glass. Wearing double-faced wool coats in soft powder pink, leather brown, stone gray and what can only be called a Jil Sander lilac, the first girls walked out with the sensuous gesture of holding their coats closed. The gorgeous coats, which almost looked like sculpture, considering the way they sat on the shoulders, but away from the body, reminded me of all my favorite depressive (and fabulous in their own right) mothers from celluloid – Julianne Moore in ‘The Hours’ (who more than likely owned zero couture) to Geraldine Paige in Woody Allen’s ‘Interiors’ (who almost most certainly did). I could imagine the coat clad ladies considering the arrangement of those bouquets on the runway – stopping for a second to consider which position would be most suitable.
The collection packed in all the codes, tropes and symbols from film, literature and Americana mores to channel a woman’s chaotic, quiet undoing, or awakening. Below the grand coats and dusters were an army of bustier tops and dresses that with their delicate palette, lent the collection that rising at dawn feel – the “making coffee and roaming the house before anyone else has risen” sensation – the notion that Simons’ woman is waking up with the world. How interesting that these clothes should be uplifting and brutally depressing at the same time. It would be Ingmar Bergman or Kate Chopin ready-to-wear in an instant, were it not for Simons’ deft subversive touches, like a black bustled bustier gown completely overlayed in fetishistic latex, the slightly street-ready silhouette created by peculiar nips and tucks on a platinum lamé skirt, or how half of a leather corset came molded onto the bodice of a dress. Not to mention the craziest touch of all – those spectacular 1980s graphic strappy stilettos that could’ve come straight from a completely different runway show altogether. This season’s veiled ski hat, for sure, and more than likely next fall’s must-have shoe. Expect the Jil Sander footwear inventory to be wiped clean.