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Raf Simons Is and Always Has Been a Fashion “Activator"

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Raf Simons is his own man. He always has been really, but since leaving his historic post as Chief Creative Officer of Calvin Klein, becoming the brand’s first designer since Klein (the man) to singularly control its multiple lines, he’s definitely on his own. And for his first collection back, focusing exclusively on his own eponymous label, he’s come out swinging.

With Laura Dern, Frank Ocean, Rick Owens, and Pierpaolo Piccioli from Valentino all sitting front row at his Fashion Week show in Paris on Wednesday, Simons put out what is clearly one of his best collections in the last few seasons. Presented under the name “Diptych,” the range was divided into halves. Each half featured coats, many almost grazing the floor in length, mostly oversized, some with exaggerated, sharp shoulders. The biggest difference between the show’s two segments was color palette, with pale pinks, a leopard print, and an electric blue in the latter half, while the first stayed neutral à la navy, black, and versions of brown. In the middle, Whispering Sons, a post-punk band (Simons has routinely drawn inspiration from music), played for about 10 minutes. Joy Division, who he has also routinely pulled inspiration from, was on the soundtrack for the first half, giving the show a more somber mood.

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Beside the coats, there was a lot to take in, including the hats, some of which were part baseball cap, part jockey cap. But also the line, “Burning Down the House,” which could have been a Talking Heads reference, or perhaps a reference to the way Simons left Calvin (the brand has since made a series of announcements that indicate that it will be taking a decidedly different direction following his departure). Whatever it alluded to, those words appeared on various trousers, disappearing in flashes beneath the coats. Other patches and words included “losers,” “xanthrophobic,” and “history of my world” — the latter being particularly apt, as the collection seemed to reference the designer’s oeuvre and turn it out in a new way.

But there was also the art. Simons has, for years, collaborated with artists or included art (or photographs) in his collections. Through his prior work for Christian Dior, Calvin Klein, and his own brand, he has worked with names like Sterling Ruby, the Andy Warhol Foundation, and the Mapplethorpe Foundation. He’s also used personal photos of his family, splicing and setting them into pieces. This latest range was no different.

Dern sat front row this season as she played muse for the collection. Film stills of her crying and screaming in David Lynch’s 1986 film Blue Velvet appeared as patches on the garments as well as the invitation to the show. Simons has also routinely used films (Jaws, Twin Peaks) as touch points. Taken with the rest of the collection, it made for a moody but ultimately beautiful vibe.

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Raf Simons is what he has described as one of the “activators” of fashion — one of a few designers whose collections push the industry and will be studied for years to come. He was exactly this prior to nabbing high profile jobs at Jil Sander, Christian Dior, and Calvin Klein, and he will undoubtedly continue to be. But what will be interesting to see is if this will be the dawn of a new era in his own design language or whether we will continue to see him (quite deftly) re-working many of the still-ripe ideas he’s been working with over the last few years of his career. Either way, if this is a sign of what’s to come, we’re excited for the chapters that follow.

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