In the wake of his elegant Autumn/Winter 2020 collection, we asked four Raf Simons devotees what makes the Belgian designer’s clothes so special
Few, if any, designers are quite as exalted as Raf Simons, the Belgian iconoclast who rose to fame in the late 1990s with intelligent, confrontational menswear collections which would skew the course of fashion forever. His preoccupation was, and continues to be, with the ephemerality of youth – the romance and pain of it, its paraphernalia and subcultures – melded with a precision which would take him to the highest couture studios in the land as creative director of Dior (a role as creative director at Jil Sander preceded, afterwards, he would become chief creative officer at Calvin Klein, a role he held until 2018).
But it is his eponymous label – which Simons continues to helm from Antwerp – that has long attracted his most devoted followers, a near-religious sect who spend hours (and, if successful, thousands of pounds) hunting down rare pieces from his earliest collections, or wait frantically at the doors of stores for his new ones. “[His ideas] have shaped and reshaped the industry for almost a quarter of a century, his clothes have a universality that reaches far beyond that relatively narrow remit,” wrote Alexander Fury in AnOther Magazine A/W19. “He designs worlds, for people.”
This week in Paris he showed a remarkable Autumn/Winter 2020 collection; set to the soundtrack of Blade Runner and David Bowie’s Life on Mars, models carried muffs on which were written “Solar Youth”, “Arrival” and “No Man”, in what seemed like a musing on potential futures, or alternate presents (Vogue posited the theory that the models were perhaps the left behinds from far-off planets, returning to Earth). At heart was a refreshed focus on tailoring: slim-legged tuxedo suiting, sleek, cocooning capes which transformed via the zips on each side, fur coats ensconced in plastic (Simons said he wanted to transform plastic from something throwaway, to something you could keep forever). It made for his most elegant collection of recent years.
In its aftermath, we talk to five of Raf Simons’ most devoted followers about how they fell in love with – and why they continue to wear – the enduring designer’s clothes.
Raf Simons Autumn/Winter 2020
Tuomas Laitinen, Fashion Director, SSAW Magazine
“I’ve been wearing Raf’s clothes for 20 years. He was the first designer who really spoke to me and made clothes for guys like me from the same sources of inspiration we had. Raf was referencing practically every band and artist I was obsessed with. Many of Raf’s beautiful shows have made me shed tears; that rarely happens in today’s fashion. Some people are shocked that I still wear pieces like the S/S03 parachute bomber or the S/S02 cage jacket. Apparently they should be archived, but they’re meant to be worn and no other clothes make me feel like they do.”
Anthony Turner, Hairstylist
“I first became aware of Raf when I saw pictures of his [A/W98] ‘Radioactivity’ collection in The Face magazine – my love of electronica and New Wave music drew me to Raf like a moth to a flame. I’m a fan, I just get it. Working on his campaigns with Willy Vanderperre and Olivier Rizzo is always one of those incredible moments in life – I’m honoured. For me the clothes always make me feel like I’m a part of something, like some kind of unspoken tribe... I like how they also keep that coming-of-age feeling alive in me. There’s something so romantic about that which I love so much.”
Jordan Duddy, Fashion Coordinator, Another Man
“The first Raf Simons piece I bought was a Sterling Ruby sweatshirt from their A/W14 collaboration. Having studied art and later fashion I was a big fan of both Raf and Sterling’s work and this season is still a personal favourite of mine. It really kickstarted my collection and I now have an archive of Raf Simons that dates from S/S97 to the most current season. I love menswear and for me Raf is one of the best contemporary menswear designers working today. I really connect with the brand’s aesthetic, when I look at Raf’s shows past and present there’s a mix of great garment construction, an ever-changing silhouette, plus a strong styling element. There’s a real intellect, a strong youth influence and interesting referencing throughout his collections which implores you to look beyond any initial impressions of the clothes. Raf has an unrivalled ability to create a character and place them in an environment, this is something which I find engaging and also aspirational.”
Stavros Karelis, Fashion and Buying Director, MACHINE-A
“We all have different favourite designers, but it’s harder to think of one designer you have always felt safe wearing. To fully understand Raf Simons’ brand, and the designer himself, is a process which requires time. Looking at the past, Raf has revolutionised menswear more than any other designer has in the course of decades. If you want to understand the future of fashion and look at trend forecasts, first look at Raf Simons’ recent collections. Through his creations, he’s an architect of time and knowledge – though never in a patronising way, but with his cool, silent way. People say that fashion is not art, but Raf Simons is an artist. He creates emotions. As a buying director and consumer I feel and then I purchase, and it feels safe when I wear my favourite S/S19 couture duchess satin black coat knowing that it is Raf Simons.”