As an industrial design student in Genk, Raf Simons was intrigued by the Antwerp Six and decided to apprentice with Walter Van Beirendonck. Linda Loppa, then head of the Antwerp fashion academy, encouraged him to make the leap into fashion without having studied fashion. Simons launched his own label in 1995, and his first show in Paris followed in 1997. His narrow silhouettes in classic fabrics and his combination of traditional tailoring elements with references to diverse youth cultures and music sparked radical innovation in men’s fashion. From 2005, he has also designed for women, first as creative director for Jil Sander and for Dior from 2012 to 2015. Following a brief intermezzo with the American Calvin Klein label, in 2020 he became one of the creative co-directors for Prada, at Miuccia Prada’s side, in a unique collaboration that further confirms Simons’s long-lasting influence on the world of fashion.
Revolutionary visual language
Raf Simons sees clothing as a medium for creating dialogue and for visualizing an attitude. His models, whom he initially sought out himself in the streets of Antwerp, strengthen his revolutionary aesthetic. Video also has an important role in the presentation of his work. In the lookbook for his Woe Onto Those Who Spit on the Fear Generation… The Wind Will Blow It Back collection, for example, he used stills from a video created by Willy Vanderperre.
I am interested in creative collaboration, because dialogue is the best way to evolve. Collaboration is challenging, but in a good way. It can pull you out of your own comfort zone and lead you to something new.
The Leap to Women’s Fashion
Ceramics as Inspiration
The work of the French ceramicist Pol Chambost was the inspiration for sculptural curves, modelled volumes and surprising touches of colour.
After ten years of designing menswear, as creative director for Jil Sander, Simons added women’s fashion to his repertoire in 2005. While remaining faithful to the minimalist aesthetic of its founder, he infused the brand with new energy in the form of streamlined silhouettes and references to visual art and music.
Reinventing the Hourglass
Simons’ first collection for Dior for Autumn-Winter of 2012 was followed by the ready-to-wear Spring-Summer collection for 2013, in which he streamlined the late Christian Dior’s world-famous ‘Bar’ hourglass silhouette in black tuxedos and short-skirted formal suits. He closed out the show with a number of ensembles with close-fitting, short bodices in fine knits and voluminous skirts in silk with printed floral motifs, finished with a layer of iridescent organza.
In 2012, Simons became creative director for Dior. He modernized the codes of the French couture house by highlighting Christian Dior's iconic legacy and innovating with bold use of materials and colours.
CALVIN KLEIN ENLARGED
This dress in organza, decorated with polychrome hand-painted feathers, was one of the first of Raf Simons’ creations for the American label, Calvin Klein. The Belgian designer was appointed creative director in August of 2016, and the following January, he launched the Calvin Klein by Appointment line, with designs made to measure. Actress Julianne Moore wore the dress for the Costume Institute Benefit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. A reworked version of the dress appeared in the Autumn-Winter collection of 2017-18, which highlighted references to Americana, with sheriff’s jackets and brightly-coloured marching band uniforms. A year later, Simons explored safety and protection, incorporating fire-fighting gear, knitted balaclavas and Mylar survival blankets transformed into dresses, finished with lace.
Author: Romy Cockx
Photo above: Bert Houbrechts / Marleen Daniëls