Style & Grooming

New York Fashion Week: Men’s: The Looks at Raf Simons

This season Simons explores the culture of drugs – here, Jack Moss unpicks the show

Last night in New York, Raf Simons staged his A/W18 show amidst a re-imagining of Bacchanalia, the boozy Roman festival that pays ode to ancient Rome’s god of wine, Bacchus – here, marked with half empty champagne bottles and glasses, twists of lemon peel, bread, cheese, waffles and drooping bunches of flowers, like those of the Flemish masters.

The collection itself, however, found more current inspirations – namely, the streets of 1970s Berlin and Christiane F., the German actress and musician notorious for the tape-recorded testimonial of her youth, used as the basis for the book Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo, a cautionary tale of her own heroin addiction, which began when she was just 13 years old.

In 1981, that book became a movie of the same name directed by Uli Edel, a film that has been a longtime fascination for Simons since he saw it as a teen – his Belgian company, Detlef BVBA, is named after one of the characters, and his A/W01 collection, Riot, Riot, Riot saw the film’s posters printed across torn-up hoodies and camouflage bomber jackets. For A/W18, almost two decades after this, he returned to that imagery for a collection entitled Youth in Motion.

Photographs of the film’s protagonists were printed across t-shirts and hoodies, as well as on patches, sewn on to the knees of jeans, and the chemically-altered states of the character’s set the tone – one hoody, open at the sides to reveal the model’s body beneath, was simply printed with “DRUGS”, a reference to the prescriptive covers of the 2016 reprint of Glenn O’Brien and Cookie Mueller’s 1984 tragi-comic play Drugs. In keeping, more patches – these ones reading LSD, XTC and GHB, like squares from a periodic table.

Colours were, for the most part, rave bright – pink, yellow, blue – their appeal heightened in their satin fabrication, a material that dominated, whether used for skinny cargo trousers, or as the lining of more sober outerwear. That outerwear, and the suit jackets, in houndstooth or melton wool, came up big on the shoulders, giving a top-heavy silhouette. Half-jumpers hung by just the neck, some decorated with blown-up Argyll knits, whilst fetish-y vinyl gloves suggested a warped sort of glamour, recalling his Perspex-heeled boots, in the same glossy fabric, for Dior’s Spring 2015 Haute Couture collection.

So was this a cautionary tale or a celebration of the seductiveness of illicit substances? A bit of both – in the release Simons clarified that the show sought to neither: “glorify nor condone the culture(s) of drugs,” seeking instead to “consider the persistent, almost ubiquitous presence of narcotics (prescribed or otherwise) within our society.” He noted that sales would go towards helping people beat addiction. He lives in America now, and there, an opioid epidemic is ravaging whole communities – and killing 91 citizens a day.

That said, Simons’ A/W18 collection had a seductive air, which may be less about the appeal of the substances themselves, rather the imagery that surrounds it – and fashion’s long-time fascination with the gritty glamour of addiction. In a less adept designer’s hands, a collection based on a film about teenage heroin addicts could seem clunky. But here, served up as a sort of damned decadence, like the final hours of a party, the collection was less cheap thrill, more part of an on-going dialogue with the complex, divided nation he now calls home.