Those who are even remotely familiar Raf Simons tend to be rather well versed in the fact that since Simons launched his eponymous label in September 1995 in Antwerp, Belgium, he has had a strong hand in situating the concept of men’s fashion that we take for granted. For years now, he has showed radical garments that embrace modern technologies and fabrics, and rethink traditional structures – all while producing looks that fluidly transition from year to year. Most famously, he, according to most, initiated the slim silhouette that has taken the runways by storm.
But far from a one-trick pony, Simons’s reach is vast and it is deep. There are his staples: the signature tailoring, the sleeveless tops and shorts, the confident use of color, the exploration of youth codes and of uniforms, the amalgamation of purely classic men’s elements with undeniably futuristic ones – these are the tools that Simons consistently revisits and refines. And then, of course, there are his forays outside of his comfort zone, which also come every season – some more successful than others. His Fall/Winter 2016 outing, entitled, Nightmares and Dreams, was certainly a marked victory.
Also a relatively well-known notion is that for a couple of decades now, the future has been in the hands of Raf Simons. Yet, for Fall/Winter 2016, Simons’s first collection for his eponymous label since his departure from Christian Dior this past Fall, he looked back. In particular, Simons looked to his own Fall/Winter 2002 collection, entitled Virginia Creeper, as well as some of his other previous outings, for his menswear collection this season, which he showed in Paris on Wednesday.
Speaking of Virginia Creeper, this is an apt place to commence, as it appears to be the collection in which A/W 2016 is most significantly rooted. Simons did those who lack significant archives a favor by listing a few collections of reference in his press notes (see them below). These include Virginia Creeper; Waves; Woe Onto Those Who Spit On The Fear Generation...The Wind Will Blow It Back; and Riot, Riot, Riot. A bit about these four collections …
As Hapsical, author of the now-famous, “Raf Simons: 15 Years of Brilliance,” noted, the collection “focused on the unpredictability and duality of nature. The implication was clear: at a time of global crisis, mankind cannot even find safety in nature, which remains as powerful a force as ever, despite the spread of industrialisation and capitalism. The collection also featured elements of American college clothing.”
Waves, which Simons staged for Fall/Winter 2004 explored the idea of "conscious confinement and willful enclosure... [and] the feeling of enlightenment and personal enrichment one can find in extreme but self-chosen isolation.”
For Spring/Summer 2002, Raf showed one of his most famed collections to date, Woe Onto Those Who Spit On The Fear Generation...The Wind Will Blow It Back. Hapiscal puts it well:
Simons' spring/summer 2002 collection is really worth its own blog post some time, because it has been one of the single most influential men's collections. The collection was called ''Woe Onto Those Who Spit On The Fear Generation...The Wind Will Blow It Back' and it was shown in Paris, on models who walked barefoot, their faces obscured by cloths (with obviously chilling connotations, at a time of great global unrest). Interviews have suggested that Simons was preoccupied not with Islamic terrorism, but rather with youth issues. Either way, this collection provides an incredibly powerful statement, and regardless of whether or not (or to what extent) we buy into the idea that fashion mirrors society, it really is a very stylish, modern statement, shown in an incredibly atmospheric way: there is a certain audacity to taking the style codes of youth protest and anarchy, skillfully reworking them in high quality materials, and then presenting them as high fashion to an assembled audience of editors and store buyers in Paris.
Lastly, Riot, Riot, Riot was another one of Simons’s most noteworthy collections. The Fall/Winter 2001 collection was shown in a vast decrepit factory, with smoke machines and a set built almost entirely of scaffolding. Noteworthy this collection was largely because Simons continued to push his alternative to skinny tailoring: the oversized, baggy layers. (Note: You've likely seen some of these garments around, such as the camp bombers, as they are the ones that celebs like Kanye West and Rihanna have been wearing lately).
Aside from specific collections, Simons notes other references, some of which include: American Youth, Belgian Youth, the Boy Scout, the School Boy, and Red Americana. These come as little surprise, as they are all consistent points of reference for Simons. One cannot speak of Simons’s work without acknowledging his proclivity for the exploration of youth and how he has managed to turn the charged irresoluteness of younger years into a proven source of commercial desirability.
The youth references, themselves, have varied quite notably with time: taking the form of classic Americana varsity sweatshirts, complete with a "Youngsville University" insignia and prep school blazers paired with shorts (for A/W 1997, editorials for which included both boys and girls); the corresponding S/S collection, entitled “Teenage Summer Camp” (which was emblazoned on the back of workwear shirts, along with the locale "Salt Lake,") was complete with sleeve-less tees bearing a packing list of sorts - one read: "I have 2 pairs of black jeans, 2 turtle necks, 2 tee shirts" and so on; another with the word "Generation" printed on it a handful of times or the word "Teenage;" and more knitwear. Moving forward over ten years sees Simons tapping into the youthfulness of the street(think: generously-cut outerwear, jackets with dropped shoulders and, and skinny shorts, tapered to the knee paired with sneakers – and all topped with (dyed) hair swept in faces or oversized hats for F/W 2012).
Most relevant for us – with the A/W 2016 collection in mind – Simons’s fetish for youth codes and Americana has taken the form of classic college sweatshirts, complete with a "Youngsville University" insignia and prep school blazers paired with shorts, for A/W 1997, for instance. Letterman jackets, with letters “L”, “B”, “VC”, and “T”, were layered over crewneck college-inspired sweatshirts or under sweeping ponchos, and included in Simons’s F/W 2002 collection, Virginia Creeper. For A/W 2016, “D”s, “Y”s, and “F”s were emblazoned on varsity sweaters – which were layered under updated trench-style coats or over other sweaters over button-up shirts over t-shirts. Varsity-style stripes lined the sleeves of sweaters and the tops of boots.
Additional references of this sort come by way of academic musings. As Simons first showed in 1995 and which were woven in throughout his first few collections, there were subverted takes on school uniforms. Specifically, this initially took the form of close-fitting, uniform-inflected tailoring (a result of Simons’s rethinking of traditional structures) mixed with edgy, youth-culture references. In the past, this was slashed garments, leather, and slouchy knits, and modern technologies and fabrics, of course. For Fall/Winter 2016, this was frayed knits – something that also has ties to another Simons’s collection: “Woe Onto Those Who Spit On The Fear Generation...The Wind Will Blow It Back,” the Spring/Summer 2002 collection. It is known primarily for the scarf masks that covered the models faces, but look close and you will see that their knits are complete with frayed edges.
There are of course, the Boy Scout-type badges (one depicts a camp fire, another a compass, still another bears the imagery of a knot) decorated sweaters, surely, an ode to Virginia Creeper. But on a more foundational level, we can see the references in the volumes and layers that Simons utilizes for A/W 2016. In terms of concrete references and designs elements, the Creeper collection was significant because it played to Simons’s fascination with oversized garments and layering (which he developed, and continues to develop, in years to come), particularly in terms of proportion.
The former is something he has been pushing as an alternative to his signature skinny tailoring. It harkened back to Simons’s earliest days experimenting with volume and proportion – at first he went very skinny and then when he grew bored of that, he shifted his focus. For F/W 2016 (much like in collections prior), this came in the form of oversized, baggy layers. It is certainly worth noting that Simons’s Creeper collection, in connection with his earlier Summa Cum Laude collection from S/S 2000, initiated the heavy use of layers on the runways around that time and up until today. It has been followed up by his F/W 2004 collection, Waves, which managed to embody both garments of the close-fitting, skinny silhouette and others of the baggier outré (who could forget the oversized skater-inspired trousers that season or the scuba-inspired bodysuits for that matter?). It is always amusing to remember that he has had a hand in pushing both ends of the spectrum, even if he is far better known for his 1990’s skinny look.
Note the large houndstooth jacket (below, right), which stood out as particularly voluminous, especially when styled on the model (Raf Simons models are some of the skinniest), certainly, a deliberate move. There were similarly oversized sweaters – both varsity-type and otherwise – whose shoulders were droopy and the sleeves were lengthy – with hands clearly hidden inside excess fabric. This, paired with the distressed nature of some of the garments, is a clear ode to Martin Margiela, the man who inspired Simons to pursue fashion design (as opposed to industrial/furniture design) in the first place.
There were also the oversized puffer jackets that Simons paraded out for F/W 2016, which are certainly a nod to his experimentation with proportions, particularly for his F/W 2002 collection. If you are to recall the outerwear of Virginia Creeper, the large clear ponchos certainly must come to mind first. However, large puffered parkas were also in play – one came in a shiny red hue (worn by Simons’s muse, Yannick Abrath), another in a shiny army green. The ones that Simons showed for A/W 2016 are certainly updated versions – refined for city wearing (which stylish New Yorkers could likely use as soon as this week) and the like. They fall somewhere along the spectrum after the ones Simons’s showed in the Creeper collection and the ones he showed for Fall/Winter 2004, the large black ones with the orange lining, remember?
There were other throwbacks moments, as well. The navy blue pin striped suit bore the marked skinny tailoring for which many of us know Simons’ earliest of years. His use of pinstripes is interesting, as it is a reminder of the Fall/Winter 2009 collection he showed, which took a turn for the conservative – albeit to much furor. Simons took on Wall Street dressing, complete with pinstripe suits, some of which were subverted with Neoprene parts. The silhouette of the pinstripe suit for F/W 2016 – slightly cropped and shrunken – is a throwback all of its own.
Interestingly enough, real Raf Simons aficionados will likely notice that even the models’ hair mirrored styles from Simons’s past. The straight bowl cuts parted distinctly down the center should take you right back to Spring/Summer 2000 and the Summa Cum Laude styling.
What can we make of all of this? Well, Simons actually put it best himself. Reflecting on the 20 years he has spent operating his eponymous label, he said: “You start to see you have your own uniform.” And it seems that is what he was showing us on Wednesday.