Raf Simons is likely best known for his role as the former creative director of Christian Dior, the Paris-based house he left after roughly 3 years this past October. Since his departure from the famed house, Simons has said very little. He spoke to former New York Times’ fashion director, Cathy Horyn, prior to the announcement that he was leaving the brand, but other than that, the designer, who still maintains his 21-year old eponymous label in Belgium, has remained relative mum. Alexander Fury, however, spoke with Simons recently for T Magazine. Here are some of our favorite excerpts from the article, entitled: The World (and Future) of Raf Simons …
On his eponymous label: My brand has never stood for a classic wardrobe, which is what most men’s brands represent. Then they give it a twist, with styling. We are so far evolved . . .’’ he stops, sighs. ‘‘And men’s fashion is still . . .’’ he stops, and sighs again. ‘‘For more than 20 years, I try. I wish it was where women’s fashion is.’’ Meaning he wishes that more designers were like him — willing to ‘‘fashion’’ a new identity for men in the same way they do for women.
On his interest in fashion: ‘‘I wasn’t someone who was so interested in ‘fashion’ before I went to university. I was not obsessed with clothes, at all,’’ Simons says. ‘‘But at quite a young age, I got to see art in a way that triggered interest.’’
On the role of the creative director: ‘‘When you start performing as the creative director of another brand, you realize how much it’s not . . . [your own personal codes]. How different those two are. You could really work your ass off, really bring a lot of your own thing, but it’s not the same thing. . . . I didn’t really think it over but with my own brand, I have became very protective, almost. Doing literally what I want to do, that relates to its own history or my own history or my own being or . . . I don’t know.’’ Simons’s thick eyebrows knit together. ‘‘I never really thought of it until now.’’
On working at Dior: I remember something he said to me, for a profile I was writing in the Independent magazine more than a year before he left Dior: ‘‘My opinion is that being a creative director in a huge institution is . . . you enter, and you’re going to go out. I could never take the attitude that this thing stands or falls with me. No. My brand, yes, but Dior or Jil, no. . . . I don’t experience it as something that I have to make mine. It’s not mine.’’
On the current state of fashion: You get the sense that Simons, maybe, still hates fashion on some level. The pace, the relentless cycle of seasons, the built-in obsolescence. His work seems to fight against all that. He sells to a number of stores around the world, but the commercial impact of his line is second to its creative heft. ‘‘It’s still small from an economic view, it’s a small brand . . . it’s my baby.’’ Simons says. ‘‘People ask me, ‘Why don’t you push it up, and make it big?’ ’’ His voice hardens. ‘‘No. I like it the way it is. Maybe it’s pretentious. I know I am able to keep it like that because of . . . me. Taking positions at houses, doing things on the side. Because the economical law these days is to make sure that you always pump it up, and increase turnover. It’s not that I’m against that. It would be great if we could become bigger. But there should be a way to not lose what it is.’’
On his next move: Rumors abound that he may be headed to Calvin Klein next. The New York-based Klein seems initially an odd proposal for the hitherto European-bound Simons. But if he is to join another established label, it’s likely to be to somewhere entirely different from either of his previous tenures. ‘‘I needed a challenge,’’ he says of his move to Dior. ‘‘Jil is a niche brand. And I think it wouldn’t have been a challenge to take on another niche brand. It’s not only the style, it’s not only the aesthetic, it’s also how it sits in the fashion world, how people look at it, and how people criticize it . . . how it’s communicating with so many different women.’’
Given Simons’s frustrations with the medium of men’s wear, a Raf Simons women’s wear line isn’t far-fetched either. ‘‘Sometimes [in] a lot of the men’s I don’t even find fashion,’’ he murmurs. ‘‘I find wardrobe. Elegant, and beautiful, and modern, sometimes. Beautifully executed. Does it impress me? Not really. With the evolution of our society, it’s not the biggest challenge, I think, to have it perfectly executed.’’ He pauses. ‘‘I just wonder why more men’s fashion can’t push, and can’t try to take the responsibility. That men could manifest themselves the way that women manifest themselves.’’