Raf Simons’ namesake brand brought youth and pop culture power to the fore
Raf Simons has declared that his eponymous label’s spring 2023 collection was its final season. His final collection, with garments emblazoned with prints by the late Ghent artist Phillipe Vandenberg with phrases like “kill them all and dance,” was a celebration of sorts, with a thousand burgeoning creatives coming together in the spirit of community. In tandem with London’s Frieze Art Fair, the show, held at London nightclub Printworks, transformed into a rave.
It was a happy note to end on, especially since on November 21, Simons took the industry by surprise when he announced on Instagram that his namesake label is shuttering. “I lack the words to share how proud I am of all that we have achieved. I am grateful for the incredible support from my team, from my collaborators, from the press and buyers, from my friends and family, and from our devoted fans and loyal followers,” he wrote.
A celebrated figure in the industry, Simons has reinterpreted pop culture and art throughout his intricate collections for the various labels he’s been at the helm of. At Jil Sander, his Spring 2012 ready-to-wear collection was a tribute to Picasso. Meanwhile, he paid homage to Andy Warhol during his stints at both Dior and Calvin Klein, where he became the first designer to receive menswear and womenswear designer of the year awards from the CFDA. Even after Simons founded his namesake menswear label in 1995, he continued to reference art including when he collaborated with American artist Sterling Ruby. Even his launch was art-oriented when he presented his collection with an 8mm film featuring Belgian designer Veronique Branquinho.
On Simons’ announcement post, he mentioned some references to his brand including “1995,” “Alda & Jacques,” “Memory wear,” and “Station to Station”—milestones and memories alluded and paid homage to in his runway collections. As the news of Simons’ label’s shuttering continues to sadden the industry, below, a nostalgic trip down memory lane through some of the brand’s memorable shows.
Spring 1998 Black Palms
His Spring 1998 collection Black Palms introduced a youth-centric runway show to the menswear scene with shirtless models parading in low-rise black trousers wearing talisman-like crystals and hand-painted symbols. Black blazers were paired with punk graphic tees and accented with palm trees in monochromatic colors. This show cemented Simons as a disruptor in the industry, a designer with a penchant for anarchy and revolution.
Spring 1999 Kinetic Youth
Simons’ Spring 1999 collection Kinetic Youth brought structure to the forefront with an exploration of suiting and shirting. White turtlenecks were decorated with the letter R on collars, while leather shoulder vests were paired with inverse-pleated trousers. Strong, linear clothing brought the designer into a new aesthetic.
Fall 2001 Riot Riot Riot
After a year-long sabbatical, Simons returned to fashion with his Fall 2001 menswear collection Riot Riot Riot. This capsule played on the “more-is-more” aesthetic. With oversized bomber jackets, hoods, striped turtlenecks, and trousers, the acclaimed designer ventured into clunky shapes with layered looks. The Belgian fashion designer contemplated obsession, intensity, and authenticity with flyers for Sonic Youth, movie posters of Christiane F., and photos of the brand Manic Street Preachers.
“Memory wear” is a reference to his Spring 2015 collection. Showing that creativity begins with a memory, this collection was a sentimental dedication to his past and personal history. Mood boards were transformed into high fashion garments with images of his parents “Alda & Jacques,” a rollercoaster he rode with his friends, and other emblems that resonated with him. Moving and impactful, this collection consisted of coats with sailor collars plastered with collages with elevated classics like button downs and vests.
“Station to Station” is a salute to the 1976 David Bowie song featured in the designer’s favorite film Christiane F. Bowie is an enduring reference for Simons with screen-printed pieces with images of Aladdin Sane. For his Fall 2018 menswear collection, the German film made an appearance through half-hoodies with the word “drugs” and hanging sweater fronts that became turtlenecks.
Throughout his career, Simons effortlessly merged nostalgia and memory into his collections. A designer heavily rooted in his experiences, his originality and notions about youth culture continue to make an impact in the industry. Of the recent news, Daryl Chang, fashion editor at Vogue Philippines even notes, “I always thought that whatever brand Raf touches just becomes so much cooler.” With Simons closing a chapter, this is sure to be a gateway to a new beginning.