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

Raf Simons in 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 namesake label, and it has the fashion world in the mood for him.

There has always been an air of eternal ambiguity in everything Raf Simons touches. Fall 2001 “Riot! Riot! Riot!” the collection is as poignant and relevant today as the Belgian designer’s recent SS23 show—both daringly desirable, collectible, fashion-forward, and on-trend. But little did the fashion industry know that, when they hopped on Printworks in October, the celebratory rave would also be the last for Simons.

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

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

It would be nearly impossible to dissect every momentous aspect and occasion of Simons’s career. Walter Van Beirendonck’s internship, along with his furniture and industrial design studio in Genk, Belgium, in 1989, was certainly a formative moment for Raf. It was here that Simons acquired a taste for fashion, being invited by WvB to Martin Margiela’s SS90 “All White” show. By Fashion BusinessSimons said: “It was such a fascinating period in Belgium. So many things were going on: the Antwerp Six; [the] Belgian New Beat was taking off, bringing with it a new sound and dress code; and then there was Margiela. From the moment she did her first show in Paris, he was the one. Everyone was obsessed with Martin.” That obsessed group included Simons.

From here, Simons developed a friendship with the likes of Willy Vanderpere, someone he would later work with on numerous occasions, before founding his eponymous label in 1995, largely inspired by his social circle. Her foray into the fashion world for FW95 was strictly edited; a white background contrasted with a predominantly formal selection of black uniform-style coats, trendy striped tank tops, crisp shirts, wide ties and skinny turtlenecks that are as relevant today as they were 26 years ago.

This was not only a game-changing moment for the designer, but also a refresher for the industry he now calls home. Simons was a self-taught talent; there was no elitist upbringing or nepo-baby edge here. This inspired many future designers to dream of success like Simons did, proving that you can do it too (just take a look at the career path of Matthieu Blazy, who started with Simons in 2007).

For FW97, Simons presented his first physical show in Paris to an audience that praised him as his ability to blend British new wave zeitgeist with then-feminized undertones and a punk edge was nothing short of seminal and rebellious, two words that would become the cornerstone of his identity, influence and impact.

His career would be defined by movements that would differentiate him from the rest. The street casting was a must, highlighting Raf’s synergy with the youth of London, Paris and Antwerp, who were also regularly seen wearing his clothes off and on the catwalk. His choice of music was as harrowing as the adolescent energy he used as his muse, playing Kraftwerk, David Bowie, Pink Floyd and, most recently, DJ Clara 3000 for the soundtrack to his shows. . Artistic references drawn from New Order and Joy Division (resulting in those infamously expensive parkas), as well as music from Sterling Ruby, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Northern Soul continued to make Simons a designer who understood the tone of the consumer, one who wanted feel a part of something special.

In addition, Simons’ archive collections continue to be in such high demand that he overhauled them with the launch of the “Archive Redux” division. We shouldn’t use prices as an indicator of success, but you can’t ignore the five-figure sums of your “Riot! Riot! Riot!” The bomber jacket sells steadily on the secondary market. Elsewhere, her work for Jil Sander and Dior has become Grail-worthy for its simplicity and elusive nature, much like previous work of her own. brand.

East I was the mass appeal of Raf Simons.

His position as an oracle of youth and highly regarded creative director for Jil Sander began to wane. The provocative design that made his clothes so exciting seemed to peter out around the same time he became the creative director of Calvin Klein 205W39NYC, CK’s fashion-forward label that, to most, was too ahead of its time for the Maison. .

In 2019, Simons took the stage of fashion talks for his first public appearance after his departure from CK. Speaking to a crowd of 800, he discussed the difficulty of working for such an established House and how goals versus creativity often collide: “It’s very different. This is how fashion changes all the time to a new kind of system, that’s not a good word, but I think right now everything becomes very systematic and in a radical way. Too connected to schedules that are purely and exclusively related to commerce and the economy. Click connections, post connections, but it doesn’t count towards my brand.”

This explains why he and CK fell out of love, and may even explain where Raf Simons, the brand, is today. His collections are selling en masse, and his work for Calvin Klein 205W39NYC was well known for sitting on the shelves of TK Maxx, as CK consumers weren’t used to Raf’s way of designing.

Fast forward to spring/summer 2023 and it seemed that positive change was on the horizon. Printworks, an institution of London’s techno rave scene, plus “fashion’s new it-girl’s favorite DJ”, Clara 3,000, and 800 spectators from both the old fashion industry and budding college students (which Raf Simons is so obviously inspired by) reunited for a highly anticipated London Fashion Week debut. At the time this was a celebration, but it turns out that it has become the designer’s own farewell, giving his audience and the audience of “Don’t touch my Raf” the party they had always wanted from the brand, tinged with winks. . to the Berghain in Berlin with which Printworks in London is so often compared.

“I didn’t want a show for 300 people sitting in rows,” he said. Fashion. “This is a show that is pure democracy. No hierarchy. A London explosion of youth, life, dancing and being together… I was thinking a lot about the body, in relation to dressing, going out and performing.” Along with phrases printed on random garments, taken from the late Belgian painter Philippe Vandenberg that read “Kill them all and dance.” It seemed that Raf had returned.

Despite this new injection of energy and wit, the designer took to Instagram to announce his departure from his own label. “Words fail me to share how proud I am of all we have accomplished,” he wrote. “I am grateful for the incredible support from my team, from my associates, from the press and buyers, from my friends and family, and from our devoted fans and loyal supporters. Thank you all for believing in our vision and for believing in me.”

Now is a sad time for the brand’s loyal fans, so much so that many notable figures are too stunned to speak. But is the move one that could see Simons move into new avenues now that his signature is about to fade? More importantly, will he become Prada’s sole creative director?

It seems a widespread understanding that this could be the case. Others hope the legendary designer will explore alternative opportunities; household items under his own name or Kvadrat’s, perhaps art according to his interview with G.Q. – “I will do other things with Sterling [Ruby]. It’s very natural. Or he will simply cling to the past in honor: “I began to realize: you have to take care of your archive. It has relevance to people and to the world. Certain companies don’t have a good archive and it’s almost sad. I understand the nature of this.”

We can’t know anything for sure, but a hearty career at Prada isn’t just on the horizon, it’s already in the works. His collections have been widely received, considered highly wearable moments in contemporary menswear and womenswear for a new generation with deep pockets. His ability to reference the past—sci-fi domestic life, a “Body of Work,” schoolboy cues, or his introspective inaugural collection for the Maison—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 probability, it seems that Raf will be a fully evolved Prada designer as well.

Simons is a once-in-a-generation great, beloved not only by his fans but also by his peers. While his mark is coming to an end, his legacy will live on, no doubt doubling his Grail-worthy status. If he can distill his learning into his production at Prada, he expects much more from the icon that is Raf.

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