BY TAMARA OMER
Date: August 2nd, 2018
Before Raf Simons, menswear was seen just as clothing. It was something they would buy because they needed to. They were more concerned with the utilization and convenience of it rather than the fashion behind it. However, they did not realize the significance and its potential to convey message or feeling. Raf Simons is known for mostly further developing minimalist menswear, which changed the menswear industry forever. He created clothes that mainly focused on the emotional aspect of men’s fashion. This was a new approach to menswear. In his minimalist aspect of design, he showed people that minimalism isn’t about creating uninteresting clothing, but rather the impact and beauty of simplicity. With each of his lines, he created striking, shocking, but resonating messages that took the industry by storm.
Even though he is known for his clothing today Raf Simons started out as taking an interest in furniture design. In 1991, Simons graduated from an industrial and furniture design from a college in Genk, Belgium. Before working with furniture companies, he interned at Walter Van Beirendonck’s design studio. Van Beirendonck saw Raf’s potential in becoming a clothing designer. He took him to Paris fashion week, which was the first time Raf had ever attended a fashion show. That fashion show was the thing that sparked his interest in becoming a clothing designer instead. He decided to take the route of menswear and became a self-taught designer. In 1995, Raf Simons launched his Raf Simons label. Beirendonck soon after became Raf’s mentor and guided or advised him through the process of creating his first fashion show. The show for his fall-winter collection premiered in 1995. It was presented through a video that displayed two men infront of a white background entering, leaving and re-entering the screen, each time presenting a new piece. The show consisted mostly of a monochrome palette, however; the tailoring and styling was ahead of its time. It had a sharp and modern edge to it without being too unrecognizable to people of that time. New York Times interpreted Raf’s presentation and styling choices as a way to capture the isolating lifestyle that young European men experience. The way he uniquely presented and tailored his clothing was also noticeable in his later collections; it was the start of his signature. It was clear that Raf was determined to push into a fashion forward direction regarding menswear.
Even though his debut fashion show was said to be a great success, it was only the start of Raf’s soon to become notable title. Raf had usually presented his collections through video presentations, however; in 1997 Raf had his first runway fashion show for his third fall collection. His show was in Paris, France, and narrated a new wave punk era through the collection. He often started to incorporate various elements of youthfulness, adolescence, and rebellion. He also took inspiration from rock and electro-techno music. After his 2000 collection, he went on a short hiatus. He decided to shut down his company in 2000 and started it again in 2001 with new manufacturer called Gyseman Clothing Industry. In 2002 he launched a line called “Woe onto Those Who Spit on the Fear Generation… The Wind Will Blow It Back.” and this became a huge milestone of his career. This collection mostly had white, black and red clothing, It also consisted of graphic and written messages, which responded to socio political affairs occurring at the time. He wrapped his models faces with white balaclavas, which only displayed the models’ eyes and kept the rest of their faces covered. He also gave them flares and made them walk barefoot. The words were written in French said things like “we will not be ignored”. This painted a picture of an unapologetic and bold theme of rebellion and revolution. He took this aspect of design and created another collection called “Riot Riot Riot” which had similar aspects, but less color and tight belts that were wrapped around baggy clothing, which was used to metaphor the restraint on freedom fighters. Both collections gained a lot of media attention, and even though it was a different approach creatively, Raf managed to keep his minimalism and clean-cut style within the tailoring. It was clever of him to choose balaclavas because it got rid of individual identity and further developed that message of unity. He wanted to show that especially the youth will be the generation that fights against corrupt political forces. The words could be interpreted as an ode to the youth’s culture. Their voice and resilience are reflected among the pieces that Raf created. It was also special because it addressed unity among men and coming together to defeat those silencing them. This culture is important to be encouraged among them and goes against the saying “Every man for himself”. In all, what made these collections so memorable was the emotional and political aspect of it. He was one of the first to choose to use fashion as a political statement and that influenced a lot of designers to do the same.
In the recent years, Raf’s take on fashion continues to influence many designers, musicians, and artists. Many have started to notice that people have recreated his style or signature in their work. He is seen as such an important role model to those who believe emotion is a priority in clothing. He continues to push that priority onto those who he sees are losing it. In fact, when he was chosen to work for Dior in 2012 he stated that his goal was to bring back emotion in the company’s clothing. This shows that he remained as an authentic designer who moves against the wave of emotionless commercial fashion. He proved this mostly in the work of menswear and continues to push the advancement of menswear. In his 2017 line for Calvin Klein’s menswear fall collection, he offers more color in his collection and diversity within the model casting. He even styles with more revealing clothing that differs from his former style. He keeps his sharpness of tailoring and the minimalism. In the collection, he becomes especially minimalist in the amount of fabric used rather than design of the clothing.This collection paints a vulnerable side of self-expression through clothing, and continues the theme of socio politics. It focuses more on the environment of the nation and its individualism. Although, despite everyone’s individuality, the collection gives off a message of people uniting as one. Raf wanted to make it clear that the collection did not embody one era or one part of the world, but rather different characters from all over. He believes that is the beauty that’s behind America.
The importance behind Raf Simons creation of menswear is that he proved to people that menswear didn’t just have to be plain and simple. He exposed its potential of becoming beyond great and he affected people’s lives through his vision. He knows how to capture the audience and tell more than one message within the pieces. Furthermore, people can tell when his work is his, and that proves that he created a brand for himself as a minimalist menswear designer. He completely turned the menswear industry around. His work and self-expression are important to many who design for men, and his legacy will always remain present.