Public School Took a Page from Raf Simons to "Disrupt" the Fashion Industry

The fashion press has made quite a fuss about New York design darlings Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne, who showed their Resort(?) or Spring/Summer(?) 2017 collection for Public School this week. The design duo was taken under the wing of the Council of Fashion Designers of America several years ago, and subsequently thrust into the spotlight, have founded their brand with a modern take on streetwear. Per the CFDA, the brand “is redefining the landscape for men’s tailored sportswear,” and with this in mind, their most recent collection was just as highly anticipated as ever. 

The collection was probably most noteworthy due to the fact that it embodied an array of the new logistical changes associated with the current “fashion disruption” model (think: a combined men’s and women’s show; an allegedly all-season collection without the season-specific moniker (it is called “Collection 1"); etc. etc.). More interesting than the garments themselves or the styling, however, was the underlying message. According to its creative directors, the collection spoke to the state of world affairs and the rise of false idols, in particular. In reality, aside from pops of bright yellow spattered throughout the collection, the one element that stood out more than almost anything else: The influence of Raf Simons. 

Raf Simons S/S 2003 (left) and Public School S/S 2016 (right)

Raf Simons S/S 2003 (left) and Public School S/S 2016 (right)

Simons, the men’s fashion great and former creative director of Christian Dior, has been a hot topic of conversation (and apparently has been on the minds of the Public School guys, at least subconsciously) as of late. Simons’ recent collections have left some critics wanting more, when pitted against some of his earlier works, which shook the industry with their novelty, display of technical skill, and exploration of themes that are not limited to the insulated world of fashion.

However, even if Simons was not making headlines for the aforementioned reasons, his influence – and the influence of some of his earliest men’s collections from his Antwerp-based eponymous label, which he launched in 1995 – run rampant throughout modern menswear collections. The work of Simons has actually, objectively affected the way men dress for the past 20 years or so – by way of his own designs, naturally, but also thanks in large part to the way in which legions of menswear designers have co-opted his once-distinct inspirations and obvious visual cues.

Some adoptions of Simons’ known silhouettes (the skinny black suit; the baggy oversized layers that followed when he grew tired of the exaggeratedly small proportions; and the sleek, futuristic proportions that followed that) and founding inspirations (think: youth codes, outsiderism, Americana, rebellion, etc.) have been tasteful. A huge part of fashion is, after all, taking existing elements, reworking them, and making them your own. Others, such as those from Virgil Abloh’s Off-White Nebraska collection, have been far more imitation-leaning than embodying of thoughtful inspiration. 

Given Simons’ influence, it should not come as a total surprise that there were a lot of Raf Simons’ signatures at play in Public School’s collection. There are the blatantly obvious: The hat-over-face masks that several models wore, a look that was taken directly from Simons’ Spring/Summer 2003 collection; the sweatshirts with cut-off sleeves (which can be found in many of Simons’ collections, such as F/W 2001 and S/S 2003), and the poncho-like silhouettes (a recurring favorite of Simons),  among others.

More intriguing, however, are some of the underlying inspirations – summarized nicely by WWD’s Jean E. Palmieri and Kristi Garced – and how closely they mirror those of Simons. Pamlieri and Garced write: “The clothes were designed to represent the uniform of the revolution, and the rebels walked down the runway wearing heritage military pieces.” Revolution, rebellion, and military uniforms – all staples in Simons’ wheelhouse. But to be fair, these are not unheard of elements for an array of designers; menswear designers in particular, have mined military garb for inspiration season after season. 

They do ring home as very Simons-esque, though, given his penchant for uniform dressin, whether it be in the form of school uniforms – which ran through many of his earliest collections, from F/W 1995 (his debut) to F/W 2002, his “Virginia Creeper” collection with its school logo-branded sweatshirts – OR military ones. F/W 1995 was also built upon the military uniform mentality, as was S/S 2010, for instance, which saw subtle military uniform elements, such as the monochrome, belted jackets and trousers combinations. 

Rebellion in the face of political unrest – also a well-known Simons go-to. His S/S 2002 collection, entitled, ''Woe Onto Those Who Spit On The Fear Generation...The Wind Will Blow It Back,” is easily one of his most well known. It consisted of rebels (err, models), who walked the runway barefoot, faces obscured by scarves and in some instances, holding flare torches, dressed in baggier garments adorned with writings that said “Stray Souls, Pray For Us.” Others had patches that read “Stand.” Sweatshirts read “Kollaps” – some with chopped off sleeves. The collection, on its face, seemed to be a statement about world politics. Simons, however, suggested that it was an exploration of youth codes. It would be hard to ignore the parallel influence, and resulting runway pieces, of this season’s Public School presentation. It is only natural though, that identical influence would lead to near identical results, no?

The season prior, for F/W 2001’s “Riot, Riot, Riot” collection, Simons similarly took on larger political issues. Writing of the collection for the widely-read “15 Years of Brilliance” blog post, Hapsical noted: “It seems Simons was more concerned with ideas like the threats posed by globalisation and racial tensions in Northern Europe.” 

There are certainly differences in the Raf Simons and Public School aesthetics and executions - no one is suggesting an identical sense of over-inspiration, a la Abloh’s Off-White. However, there is arguably not much that Public School did here – both in terms of the execution of novel ideas or garments – that Simons did not do better some ten years ago, which is particularly disheartening since the move to “disrupt the fashion schedule” was meant to allow the designers to focus more heavily on their collections and thus, be innovative. Yet, what we've received, instead, was a muddled rehash of concepts and styles that did disrupt the fashion industry, albeit a decade prior and by someone else.