Last year, Raf Simons’ eponymous label turned 20, and in the two decades since he launched his brand, Simons has made strides in menswear that continue to resonate with consumers and fellow creators alike. For Simons personally, much has changed since he set up shop in Antwerp in 1995, and within the past year alone, his name has made headlines. He left his position as creative director of Christian Dior, kickstarting a conversation about the pace and pressures of fashion, and announced that he would return to Florentine trade show, Pitti Uomo, to show his Spring/Summer 2017 collection, which is pictured below.
Then, of course, he’s set the industry abuzz with rumours of his next move, which will most likely come in the form of him taking the helm of the recently united men’s and women’s collections of New York-based brand, Calvin Klein. In anticipation of his Pitti Uomo show, we talk a look back at the history of this true fashion visionary, from his coming of age in rural Belgium to his industry-altering collections through the years.
From his beginnings in Antwerp to his outsider mindset, catch an excerpt below and read the A-Z guide with everything you need to know about one of the most visionary designers of our time, Raf Simons, on Dazed Digital and see his Spring/Summer 2017 collection below ...
A IS FOR: ANTWERP - Antwerp is more or less the centre of all things Raf Simons, from the site of his personal home to that of his eponymous label. Simons began rooting himself in the relatively new fashion capital – which was only put on the map in the 1980s – during his late teens, when he began congregating in cafes such as Witzli-Poetzli, with Olivier Rizzo, Willy Vanderperre, David Vandewal and then-girlfriend Veronique Branquinho to discuss fashion. While studying at a small university in Genk, Simons simultaneously interned with Walter Van Beirendonck, a member of the Antwerp Six, the famed collective of designers that helped position the quiet city on the map as an emerging fashion capital. It was in Antwerp that he first became familiar with the work of Martin Margiela, a key influence in his decision to enter fashion (see E IS FOR: EPONYMOUS).
B IS FOR: BLACK PALMS - For SS98, Simons turned out one of his most iconic collections, entitled Black Palms. With graphic designer Franky Claeys, Simons created a palm tree print that served as the backdrop for the runway show set, which was staged in a rundown warehouse in Antwerp. A similar design was painted on the backs of shirtless models for the runway show. One of a number of collections inspired by rave culture and Belgian New Beat music, the garments – many of which came in the form of skin-tight sleeveless shirts paired with tight-fitting pants – were adorned with the anarchist “A” symbol and Anti-Youth and Sex Pistols graphics.
C IS FOR: CHRISTIAN DIOR - Simons designed womenswear for the first time during his tenure at Jil Sander, but never couture. As such, when he took the helm at Christian Dior in 2012, his debut collection for the AW12 couture season was especially anticipated and ultimately, very well received. It marked the beginning of a three-year tenure for Simons, which ended rather abruptly in October 2015. After working across ready-to-wear, pre-collections and couture, the designer announced his desire to work on personal projects and distance himself from the demands of the current fashion system, saying: “I’m not the kind of person who likes to do things so fast.”
D IS FOR: DISORDER INCUBATION ISOLATION - The title of Simon’s AW99 collection, Disorder Incubation Isolation, speaks to the underlying themes which the Raf Simons brand was founded upon. They are also the words that adorned black flags that were carried by the group of teens who opened the runway show that season. The collection consisted of an array of monochrome looks – some black, others grey – and sleek overcoats layered over turtlenecks that were embroidered with an “R” at the neck and paired with baggier-than-usual trousers. Models, who walked in an order according to their hair colour (black-haired models first, followed by blondes) also appeared in roomy ponchos, leather sweatshirts, and to close, knitted tops layered under Simons’ signature jackets with chopped-off sleeves.
E IS FOR: EPONYMOUS - In 1995, with the encouragement of Linda Loppa, the head of the fashion division at Antwerp’s Royal Academy, Simons launched his eponymous label. A formally trained industrial and furniture designer, Simons says he was largely converted to fashion design after attending his first-ever runway show, Martin Margiela’s SS91 all-white show. Of the occasion, Simons has said: “Nothing else in fashion has had such a big impact on me. Only at that point did I understand what fashion could be or what it could mean to people.” He subsequently showed his first two collections – modeled by young male and female models – by way of video presentations and then began staging runway shows in 1997 with collections that served as examinations of the notion of “outsiderism” and the associated youth codes, such as Gabber, Americana, and New Wave.