The Sixties vibe from last season returns like updated cell phone apps: improved but not life-changing. Raoul’s Fall/Winter 2014, the much anticipated follow-up to Spring/Summer’s refreshing collection, continues to explore the label’s fascination with a period that oscillates between 1960 and 1970. The graphic sense, so energetically introduced six months ago, is re-explored, but you don’t sense it is revivified.
Held, this time, at the Kaplan Penthouse of the Lincoln Center Plaza, and (finally) part of the official calendar of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, the showing is, once again, a static display that allows the viewer to ascertain that the clothes, to be expected, are well made and fit as they should, with an ease that befits the brand’s “contemporary luxury” positioning.
While Raoul may have seduced consumers into perceiving the brand as higher-end than they really are, their merchandising approach is similar to that of its mid-price competitors. And like the latter, they don’t break new ground in product categories nor design approach. Still headed by Douglas and Odile Benjamin, the line hardly vary in terms of silhouettes and aesthetics too, which may make for sound branding, but may not arouse those seeking excitement for an increasingly generic wardrobe.
The Benjamins have no Raoul archive to mine, so they do not. They stick to shapes that they like and are familiar with: the usual shell top, the slim (not constricted) skirt, the puff-sleeved shirt, the slightly-tented jacket, much with a subtlety-lite nod to Oleg Cassini. For design cred, they look to art. This season, it is the Wiener Werkstätte Sti or the Vienna Workshops Style, an early 1900s Modernist movement that later influenced the Bauhaus group as well as the American Art Deco, and has even spawned fabrics that are categorised by micro-prints of florals and graphic shapes. This is, however, not a crossover, as the art is a mere hint, not a master stroke to its design dimension, and does not vary in treatment from the previous season. Even the cut-outs that form the border of a shell top qualify as replicate.
By associating itself with art, Raoul is able to invigorate a line that may, by a mere misstep, be unremarkable as it confines itself within commercial context. It’s a balancing act that, to be fair, the brand has walked with some finesse. The AW 2014 season appear to comprise several stories, but taken as a whole, they do not look disparate. While not as tightly edited as the previous season, the pieces will, for the most part, translate into healthy sales, which, no doubt, will inform the following season’s design direction.
Raoul may be presented in New York and presumably targeted at Americans, but the label’s sensibility is somewhat European. The print-on-same-print styling recalls Prada’s and Marni’s (although the daisy is unabashedly Marc Jacobs). And the over-sized Harlequin checks—a minimalist ode to Italian commedia dell’arte? The Euro-sense for an Asian label is not necessarily a drawback since American consumers do look to European fashion with a palpable fervour. As such, Raoul, has hit some notes right.