A Closer Look at Raf Simons' Spring/Summer 2015 Collection

Before we proceed at the whirlwind pace at which fashion moves, on to couture, which begins showing in Paris in several days, let's pause for a minute and talk about Raf. The Belgian-born designer, who is, in fact, not a formally trained fashion designer at all (he studied industrial design at a university in Genk before beginning an apprenticeship with Antwerp Six member, Walter van Beirendonck and having a change of heart, so to speak), showed his eponymous label's Spring/Summer 2015 collection this past week. The collection itself had a Japanese feel to it; some garments even bore Japanese-inspired landscapes, which were intricately beaded to perfection.

The colorful knits mark a continuation of those from the Fall's Simons/Ruby collection. There were monochrome uniform-inspired looks (when paired with the wisps of messy hair and a bicep tattoo or two, gave off a slight vibe of prison), the cleanly tailored overcoats, mid-length coats with a single, horizontal row of buttons, layered tank tops (some of which were jersey-inspired) and slim trousers, all paired with brightly-colored Sam Smiths or largely logo-free adidas slides; Raf does have a ongoing collaboration with the German sportswear giant. Maybe most interesting of all: The sailor collars that completed most jackets and which bore collages of sorts.

Raf has a deep-seated interest in art. Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Cindy Sherman, Christopher Wool, Sterling Ruby, and Brian Calvin are among the individuals whose work he admires and in some cases, owns. Having said this, he rarely shows a collection, at Dior or for his namesake label that is divorced from his love of art. You may recall that for his couture debut (yes, his Fall 2012 Dior couture show was his first foray into couture) included fabrics based on Ruby’s paintings. For Fall/Winter 2013, he used Andy Warhol's early drawings as a recurring graphic in his Dior womenswear collection. Before that, during his tenure at Jil Sander, he used Foujita Tsuguharu's artwork as a recurring theme. His F/W 2014 Raf Simons collection was, in fact, a single-season collaboration with American artist Sterling Ruby, who Raf met at a visit to the artist's studio.

The artwork that appears on his garments for S/S 2015, however, is a bit more innately personal than the influence he has derived from others' work in the past. This time Simons looked inward, adorning the garments with aged photographs of himself, including an old passport photo of his, in which he is wearing a "Superman t-shirt from the graduate collection of Oliver Rizzo, a long-term friend, collaborator and stylist." (Which we know thanks to the eagle-eyed Tim Blanks). Another is of Raf backstage at his Black Palms collection from Spring/Summer 1998. A handful of the photos, roughly 55 years old, are of Simons' parents, who were in attendance on Wednesday. Also prominently placed on an array of garments: RS, the designer's initials.

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Simons spoke to this gesture after the show, saying: "It’s impossible to analyze [all of the imagery] because it all goes very deep." He did, however, offer up some information on a few of the individual photos, including a youthful one of himself in Antwerp, which was lensed by Rizzo. Simons claims, "It was a very emotional moment for me. I still remember when [Rizzo] gave it to me and I kept it for all of these years! Tonight I finally gave it back to him."

His references go beyond personal photos, though, (think: koi fish, shark fins, astronauts, roller coasters, more roller coasters, an oil platform, life savers, peacocks, a photo inspired by the film Psycho, a still from Jaws, and Katsushika Hokusai-inspired prints). A makeshift mood board on garments, the S/S15 collection is a continuation of the collages Simons did last season with Ruby, a tribute to the 1990's teenager, who, like Raf and Ruby, spent their time sewing band patches on garments. It is not an uncommon technique for Raf, who is known to place images that he finds inspiring on garments. Remember his collaboration with London-based graphic design god Peter Saville for Fall/Winter 2003?

But back to this season: The references were cohesive, albeit they certainly could appear to an outsider to have been selected at random. But alas, "The roller coaster, the one he rode with his friends Olivier Rizzo and Willy Vanderperre decades ago. The Japanese influence was his thank-you to the first retailers who ever supported him. The shark was Jaws and Simons' love of horror movies; the swimmer in peril was danger; the astronaut was isolation," as Style.com's Tim Blanks, a boundless source of knowledge, pointed out.

A few points Blanks did not include in his review: The "NO", an ode to Peter Saville and his work for New Order. The oil platform and the explosion in another, which are representations of environmental destruction. Raf’s father was in the military night watchman. He entered the army at age 16 and stayed there; hence, the sailor-inspired collars and the photo of his father holding a gun standing beside Simons' mother. A photo inspired by the film Psycho is yet another reference to Simon's love of horror films. He also has a liking for sci-fi, which is depicted in spaceship.

And it doesn't end there. Ever the thoughtful and pragmatic designer, Simons' influences were carried out even further, by way of the soundtrack (music from Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, a film that explored some of the theme Simons alluded to in his S/S15 collection) and the lighting, which show producer Thierry Dreyfus, said was aimed to embody the lighting that illuminated horror movies in the seventies. Oh, and show-goers were "forced" to stand (quotations because fashion people will gladly stand for Raf).

In short, this was a deeply personal collection, which entails a lot more than meets the eye; hence, the need for a second look.

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