Raf Simons: End of an era or just the beginning?

Raf Simons: End of an era or just the beginning?

Raf Simons at Raf Simons has come to a surprising end. On Monday, the designer announced that his spring/summer 2023 collection would be his last under his eponymous label, and that has the fashion world in its grip.

Everything Raf Simons touches has always had an air of timeless ambiguity. Fall 2001’s “Riot! Revolt! Revolt!” collection is as poignant and relevant today as the Belgian designer’s recent SS23 show; both boldly desirable, collectible, avant-garde and current. Little did the fashion industry know when they scrambled into Printworks in October , the festive rave would also be Simons’ last.

Monday’s announcement sent shockwaves through the glitterati and fans alike. “What is going on?” they asked. “BRB is crying,” they joked. Others, such as enthusiastic Raf Simons collector David Casavant, took the opportunity to explore what all this could mean: “It’s not the end, it’s just the end of a body of work. Raf the artist still alive. His work under the ‘Raf Simons’ brand is just finished,” he told Hypebeast.

But across the fashion world, there was one shared message, something Casavant also shared with us: “The fact that ‘Raf Simons’, the brand died at the age of 27, is even more iconic.” Looking back, it’s been an incredible run for one of the most acclaimed and acclaimed designers of our generation.

It would be almost impossible to dissect every aspect and momentous event of Simons’ career. The internship with Walter Van Beirendonck, in addition to his industrial and furniture design studies in Genk, Belgium, in 1989, was undoubtedly a formative moment for Raf. This is where Simons got a taste for fashion when he was invited by WvB to Martin Margiela’s SS90 “All White” show. Per Company of fashion, Simons said: “It was such a fascinating period in Belgium. There were so many things going on – the Antwerp Six; [the] The Belgian New Beat boomed and brought with it a new sound and dress code; and then there was Margiela. From the moment he did his first show in Paris, he was the one. Everyone was obsessed with Martin.” Simons was also part of that obsessed group.

From here, Simons developed a friendship with the likes of Willy Vanderpere – someone he would later collaborate with on countless occasions – before founding his eponymous brand in 1995, largely inspired to do so because of his social circle. His foray into the fashion world for FW95 was tightly edited; a stark white background contrasted with a mostly formal black uniform-like selection of car jackets, fashionable striped tank tops, crisp button-downs, chunky ties and tight turtlenecks that are as relevant today as they were 26 years ago.

This was not only a groundbreaking moment for the designer, but also a refresher course for the industry he now called home. Simons was a self-trained talent; there was no elite education or fake baby leg-up here. This inspired many future designers to dream of success like Simons’s, proving that you can do it too (just look at the trajectory of Matthieu Blazy, who cut his teeth under Simons in 2007).

For FW97, Simons presented his first physical catwalk show in Paris to a raving audience, as his ability to blend the new-wave British zeitgeist with then-feminised undertones and a punky twist was nothing short of groundbreaking and rebellious – two words that would become a cornerstone of his identity, influence and impact.

His career would be defined by moves that set him apart from the crowd. Streetcasting was a must, highlighting Raf’s synergy with the youth of London, Paris and Antwerp, who would also be regularly seen in his clothes off the runway and on it. His choice of music was as hauntingly energetic as the scruffy teens he used as his muse, tapping the likes of Kraftwerk, David Bowie, Pink Floyd and most recently the DJ Clara 3000 to soundtrack his shows. Artistic references from New Order and Joy Division (resulting in those infamously expensive parkas), as well as Sterling Ruby, Robert Mapplethorpe and Northern Soul music turned Simons into a designer who understood the consumer’s tone, one who wanted to feel part of something special .

In addition, Simons’ archive collections remain so sought after that he revisited them with the launch of the “Archive Redux” department. We shouldn’t use prices as an indicator of success, but you can use the five-figure amounts in his ‘Riot! Revolt! Rebellion!” bomber jacket consistently trumps the secondary market. Elsewhere, his work for Jil Sander and Dior has become grail-worthy for its simplicity and elusive nature, much like his own brand’s older work.

This one used to be the mass appeal of Raf Simons.

His status as a youth oracle and highly regarded Creative Director for Jil Sander began to decline. The provocative design that made his clothes so exciting seemed to be drying up around the same time he became creative director of Calvin Klein 205W39NYC – the fashionable CK label that was too much ahead of its time for the house for most.

In 2019, Simons entered the stage of Fashion conversations for his first public appearance after leaving CK. Speaking to a crowd of 800 people, he discussed how difficult it is to work for such an established house and how goals and creativity often collide: “It’s just very different. For example, fashion is shifting to a new kind of system all the time – that’s not a good word, but although I think everything is getting very systematic and in a hardcore way right now. Too much tied to the timetables that are purely related to commerce and economics. Click connections, post connections, but that doesn’t count for my brand.”

This explains why he and CK fell apart, and it might even go so far as to explain where Raf Simons – the brand – stands today. His collections are on sale in droves and his work for Calvin Klein 205W39NYC was known to be on the shelves of TK Maxx as CK’s consumers were not accustomed to Raf’s way of designing.

Fast forward to Spring/Summer 2023 and it all seemed like positive change was on the horizon. Printworks — a London techno rave scene institution — plus ‘Fashion’s Favorite New It-Girl DJ’ Clara 3000, and 800 spectators from both the aging fashion industry and the burgeoning university students (which Raf Simons is so clearly inspired by) came together for a highly anticipated London Fashion Week debut. This was a celebration at the time, but it turns out it has become the farewell to the designer himself, giving his audiences and the “Don’t touch my Raf” crowd the party they’ve always wanted from the brand, a party with nods to Berlin’s Berghain that London’s Printworks is so often compared to.

“I didn’t want a show for 300 people sitting in lines,” he said Fashion. “This is a show that is pure democracy. No hierarchy. A London explosion of youth, life, dancing and togetherness… I thought a lot about the body, in relation to dressing up and going out and performing.” Combined with phrases printed haphazardly on garments, borrowed from the late Belgian painter Philippe Vandenberg that read “Kill them all and dance.” It felt like Raf was back.

Despite this new injection of energy and ingenuity, the designer took to Instagram to announce his departure from his own label. “I have no words to share how proud I am of all we have achieved,” he wrote. “I am grateful for the incredible support from my team, from my employees, from the press and buyers, from my friends and family, and from our devoted fans and loyal followers. Thank you all for believing in our vision and for believing in me.”

Now is a sad time for loyal fans of the brand – so much so that many notable figures are too baffled to speak. But is the move Simons could take breaking new ground now that his label is about to be disbanded? More importantly, will he be Prada’s sole Creative Director?

It seems to be a widespread realization that this could be the case. Others hope the legendary designer will explore alternative possibilities; household goods under his own name or that of Kvadrat, perhaps art according to his interview with GK – “I am going to do other things with Sterling [Ruby]. It’s very natural.” Or he simply honors the past: “I started to realize: you have to take care of your archive. It has a relevance to people and to the world. Certain companies do not have a good archive and that is almost sad. I understand the nature of it.”

We can’t know anything for sure – but a rich career at Prada isn’t just ahead, it’s already in the works. His collections have been widely acclaimed and are regarded as highly wearable moments of contemporary menswear and womenswear for a new deep-pocketed generation. His ability to reference the past — sci-fi domesticity, a “Body of Work,” schoolboy cues, or his inaugural, introspective collection for the home — may be where the designer’s future lies. We already know that Raf Simons is “a Prada fan, a Prada watcher, a Prada wearer” – and in all likelihood, Raf looks set to become a fully fledged Prada designer as well.

Simons is a once-in-a-generation celebrity, loved by not only his followers but his peers as well. As his brand comes to an end, his legacy will live on, no doubt doubling his grail-worthy status. If he can distill his learning into his output at Prada, we have much more to come from the icon that is Raf.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *