Raf Simons takes center stage in rapper A$AP Rocky’s new music video for the song appropriately titled, RAF. The video, which features Playboi Carti, Lil Uzi Vert, Frank Ocean, and Quavo, takes its most direct inspiration from Simons’ iconic Spring/Summer 2002 collection, with its flare-toting models, whose faces were wrapped in scarves (something that Simons teased in his Fall/Winter 2001 collection). In addition, Rocky looked to the video lookbook, of sorts, that Simons released in connection with his debut collection for Fall/Winter 1995.
Also in the mix, looks from the Belgian designer’s Fall/Winter 2003 collection, in which he made use of the archive of graphic design force Peter Saville, the oversized blue sweater that A$AP Rocky wears is from Simons’ Fall/Winter 2004 “Waves” collection, and the Poltergeist parka and All Shadows sweater – which both come from Simons’ Fall/Winter 2005 collection.
Of course, there are a few newer looks, such as coats from Simons’ Fall/Winter 2014 collab with artist Sterling Ruby, and one of Robert Mapplethrope imagery garments that Raf showed for Spring/Summer 2017.
As such, it seems an apt time to reflect on some of Simons’ early collections, courtesy of Hapsical’s cult-followed essay “15 Years of Brilliance.” Read about them and see the A$AP video below …
Simons’ first collection was fall/winter 1995, and it was inspired by school uniforms: Simons’ father was a soldier and he attended a strict Catholic school: uniform motifs (sometimes school, sometimes military, and sometimes religious) appear in several of his collections. Linked to uniforms is the idea of duplication and multiples, which Simons often uses in his collections too.
This collection was shown on two non-professional, ‘street cast’ models (another Simons hallmark, which becomes more important later), and it showcases from the very outset Simons’ great talent for sharp tailoring; it is amazing how contemporary the collection looks even now.
The fall/winter 2001 collection was called ‘Riot Riot Riot’, and it was shown in a vast disused factory, with smoke machines and a set built from scaffolding. Simons continued to push his alternative to skinny tailoring: the oversized, baggy layers.
A more sinister element began to appear in Simons’ work this season, which would persist for a few seasons, particularly in the next season. Much has been made of this, because of the timing of the collection, just before 9/11, but it seems Simons was more concerned with ideas like the threats posed by globalisation and racial tensions in Northern Europe.
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 (Anna Wintour has said that by looking at designers’ collections you can gage the state of the world at that time), 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, skilfully reworking them in high quality materials, and then presenting them as high fashion to an assembled audience of editors and store buyers in Paris.
Raf Simons was granted access to the archives of Peter Saville (the graphics designer for bands like Joy Division and New Order) for his fall/winter 2003 collection, entitled ‘Closer’. There are few pictures of this collection online, but it included sweaters with Saville designs (like the iconic Joy Division Unknown Pleasures cover), as well as including tailoring as Simons “reflects on the process of growing up and (re)considering adulthood, citing references to childhood dress codes, formal business looks and ghetto rebellion.”
The fall/winter 2004 collection was called ‘Waves’ and it explores the idea of “conscious confinement and wilful enclosure… [and] the feeling of enlightenment and personal enrichment one can find in extreme but self-chosen isolation” (contemporaryfashion.net). This collection saw a return to the close-fitting, skinny silhouette, which was taken to the extreme with fetish bodysuits.
Following on from SS05, the fall/winter 2005 collection was called ‘History of My World’; the colour pallet was darker than before, the slim tailoring is just flawless, and the collection included the impressive ‘double-collar’ shearling jacket which seems to have heavily influenced Christopher Bailey for Burberry Prorsum.