without saying a word, raf simons takes sartorial aim at corporate america
Forgoing show notes and backstage interviews, the counterculture genius let his statement-filled collection do the talking.
If last season's Raf Simons collection -- shown shortly after Raf split from Calvin Klein -- felt like a defiant creative call-to-arms, this was a roar. In the aftermath of autumn/winter 19, the Belgian-born told us that “the collection was completed way before all that hassle.” For spring/summer 20, that hassle was fresh in the mind.
Although Raf himself sidestepped backstage interviews and didn’t provide show notes this time, there were plenty of statements to read across what unfolded in the Sports Hall show venue located on the outskirts of Paris. As guests sat in office chairs, the designer’s independent cries against the corporate world could not be missed. From the recurring messages of ‘Stone(d) America’, ‘My Own Private Antwerp’ and ‘Support Labs’ that appeared as signature patches on everything from distressed knitwear and well-worn boxer shorts to lab coats and racoon tail-adorned backpacks, the message was loud and clear. And if there was in any doubt, Mica Levi’s epic Under the Skin film score was interrupted to echo the sentiment: “Big lie...media America, corporate America...fascist America.” Fox News and ex-Calvin bosses, are you listening?
From the moment he launched his eponymous label in 1995, Raf Simons has used it to reject and challenge the status quo, countering the sexed-up menswear aesthetic of the time by presenting his own skinny-suited, relentlessly youthful reality. “I saw all this fiction -- tanned, handsome guys -- it was opposite to the world I wanted to represent,” Raf Simons explained to Jo-Ann Furniss inside his guest edited issue of i-D (The Inspiration Issue, No. 206, February 2001). Inspired by his friends in the Antwerp punk scene as much as designers like Martin Margiela and Helmut Lang, Raf's vision was darker, dirtier and more underground than anything we had seen before. 24 years on, a cult following and a number of successful creative director roles later and the designer continues to challenge the system, channelling his own reality, drawing inspiration from his life, loves and obsessions. For spring/summer 20, he turned the dial up to 11 to drown out the noise of the Calvin Klein fallout.
Throughout, there were echoes back to some of his most iconic counterculture collage collections from the late 90s and early 00s -- the patched pieces that reach eye-watering prices on the resale market today -- that excited every Rafelite watching on. Us included. Did you spot the ‘how to text your teen’ reference to his spring/summer 97 collection and the poster-zine invitation that mirrored the one from his spring/summer 05 show? There was also the tribute to R&S Records, the Ghent-based body movers and subculture shapers synonymous with soundtracking sweaty dancefloors and drug-fuelled abandon with its acid and techno fusions from the mid-80s and early 90s. Here, the prancing horse logo appeared as pin badges and stitched-on motifs across everything from knits, tunics, and even leather boots, while the label’s ambient offshoot, Apollo, featured on T-shirts and lab coats. Far from nostalgic, these glances continued to push new possibilities and lead us to new, furiously energised places. The RS-Lab logo that appeared on leather bikers and yet more lab coats hinted at the fun Raf has had returning to his Antwerp studio to concentrate on his eponymous label. There were even nods to his Calvin Klein catalogue too.
“I don’t want to show clothes, I want to show my attitude,” is the declaration on the rafsimons.com website. Well, Raf Simons has always had plenty of attitude and now in post-New York fall out, he has it in abundance. Angst, optimism, fear, and joy, the Raf Simons attitude and the energy that drives it is infectious.