If you’re under 40, chances are your first Raf Simons piece was also your first grail (or vice versa). I remember mine: I was shopping in a now-defunct, very preppy second-hand clothing store in Soho in 2016, when I found two (TWO!!!) Raf Simons tunics from the Spring 2014 collection, when they she went super pop and printed wavy, upbeat phrases that looked like they were ripped from 1950s magazine ads on tunics and polyester T-shirts. They were on sale for $50 (clearly no one in the store knew what they were getting their hands on; I’ve seen the pieces on Grailed for $400). I remember the specific excitement of the finds and the excitement I felt in owning these pieces of menswear history that might be recognizable only to a few.
I bought myself an Alaia sweater for $300 and a never-produced Hood By Air jacket for $150, but these are the pieces that are most special to me. Such is the magic of Raf Simons’ cold, intense and alluringly raw brand.
Simons shocked the fashion industry yesterday when she announced that her label, which she launched 27 years ago, would be closing down. There will be no fancy fanfare and no final collection; the Spring 2023 show she staged in London in October (rescheduled from London Fashion Week after the Queen’s death) will simply be her last. “Words fail me to share how proud I am of all we have accomplished,” she read the Instagram ad.
When I called David Casavant, a Simons specialist and one of menswear’s most avid archivists, he was surprised, though he admitted: “I’ve really given up on being surprised or putting too much emotion into it.” [into] things that happen with fashion because it’s always changing.” And anyway, “He’s still basically an artist, so who knows what happens, but at least it’s a good job to finish.”
He’s right: Simons will remain in his role as co-creative director at Prada, where his influence grows stronger with each collection. But Simons’ brand represents many firsts in fashion, especially for menswear, where more and more big changes are starting in the industry. (Simons himself charted the disruptive process of menswear from insider to womenswear: He was connected to Jil Sander, then Christian Dior, then took over Calvin Klein, and now, of course, ensconced at Prada.) His first collections, in the mid-’90s, marked the introduction of slim-fit tailoring, and he was noted early on for his solo focus on menswear. Clothes weren’t just for men, but on them. They were cool and precise in their lines, but they had a lot to do with feeling: the kind of misplaced, inarticulate anger that often seems to accompany youth. You could always feel the excitement prodding or trudging under those tight clean silhouettes. He argued that menswear design, without the buoyancy of a women’s business, was important.
Simons was also the designer who, along with Helmut Lang and Hedi Slimane, inspired the idea of treating clothes as collectibles. It’s hard to imagine Grailed, or the transformation of fashion into a pop cultural phenomenon at the hands of rappers like A$AP Rocky and Kendrick Lamar, or even the archival fashion movement currently sweeping the female side of the business, without the designs. Simon’s.
And Simons remains the archival designer in high demand in the men’s market. That was true even before this announcement, Casavant told me: “When I was first collecting, Dior men [by Hedi Slimane] it would resell at a very high price, and it was not affordable to buy at retail, and Raf was. And now he’s flipped. Raf is much more expensive”. Casavant recently began selling a small selection from his archive at Dover Street Market in New York, which marks the first time his collection, which is used primarily by celebrity publishers and clients, has been “available” or accessible to the public. What she has noticed is that Simons’ designs have only gotten more and more demand. Casavant said her doctor recently asked him during an appointment if his teenage nephew could come into Casavant’s office and see his file on Simons’ clothing.
This was not by Simons’ design, of course, although he said in a 2018 talk at Harvard University that she loved the way Grailed users treated shopping and acquiring her clothes. In 2020, he relaunched several of his archival pieces (which, as Casavant pointed out to me, only made the original pieces more valuable). So what has made them so collectible? Casavant speculates that he has something to do with Simons’ career development. While it may have helped a designer like Slimane to have the Dior label behind him, “so he already had that history and cachet,” Simons’ growing profile, with major appointments at European and American houses, led to the fashion fans to discover their back catalogue. of pieces that, for the first decade of the brand’s existence, spoke primarily to a small audience of men’s fashion insiders.
I doubt a designer can continue to have that kind of career. Simons built his business into a cult one, and it wasn’t until she began making women’s clothing that she was more widely introduced to the world. Increasingly, designers are launching their own brand with a major house appointment as their goal; they often say it’s crucial to the financial survival of their own brand.
Probably, too, his extremely emotional clothing appeals to young people who are increasingly feeling the stuff behind Simons’ early collections, fueled by the music of bands like INXS and Joy Division. Simons has been a frequent critic of the fashion system, suggesting in various interviews over the years that the fashion calendar leaves little time for the development of real ideas. When he left Dior, for example, he stated that he wanted to focus on his own brand. Now, working with Ms. Prada, it seems that for the first time his own ideas can be more firmly articulated in his big date with the brand. “It’s not like she died,” as Casavant told me.
Perhaps he could have appointed a Kiko Kostadinov or a Samuel Ross to take charge of the brand. But it’s more Simons, more punk, more determined, more whimsical, more artsy, just saying goodbye rather than trying to make Frankenstein a new young designer on paper. Once again, he is leading us to think about how we might see things differently; What is the value of a super personal brand if the person who put their heart into it is no longer around?
Rachel Tashjian is director of fashion news at harper’s bazaar, working on print and digital platforms. Previously, she was G.Q.she was the first fashion critic and worked as deputy director of GARAGE and as a writer in vanity fair. He has written for publications including bookforum Y artforumand is the creator of the Opulent Tips newsletter, by invitation only.