Raf Simons is probably the most celebrated fashion designer working today. He held the top job at Dior womenswear in Paris from 2012 to 2015 (with the anguish and elation of his first collection documented in the 2014 film Dior & I), and is now in New York, revolutionising the look at Calvin Klein. But the Belgian designer also runs a label under his own name, Raf Simons, and it was this collection he showed late last night in Paris, a 40-minute drive away from the main hub of Paris Men’s Fashion Week. This Spring/Summer '19, Raf wasn’t interested in reimagining the bar jacket or American denim. Instead, on his own patch, he celebrated that most British of subcultures: the lager lout.
Models walked the runway clutching six-packs of tinnies, held together by supermarket-style plastic rings or sheets of cut-out leather, and carried nonchalantly like tote bags. Later, the plastic rings were fashioned into tank tops. "It’s like when kids hang out, carrying their six-pack of beers," Raf told journalists backstage after the show. "But also, like Paco Rabanne," he added, acknowledging the creator of the iconic '60s linked disc dresses. It was also a reference to designs in his archive, Raf noted. Since 1995, the designer has explored the aesthetics and euphoria of youth culture, from late '70s/early '80s new wave and post punk to '90s rave culture, as well as contemporary art (he has collaborated with artist Sterling Ruby on a number of occasions, even at Dior).
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Raf’s latest collection was its focus on traditional menswear garments, and rejection of streetwear styles. In a season where Virgil Abloh, a longtime creative director for Kanye West and the designer of Off-White, will present his first collection for the French luxury giant Louis Vuitton, it is interesting to note how other designers are reacting to this changing tide. At Valentino yesterday, Pierpaolo Piccioli embraced the sportswear and streetwear aesthetic, and packed his front row (for the first time) with black musicians and celebrities.
But in fashion, when a style becomes ubiquitous, it will soon be over (in the eyes of design devotees, if not retailers and consumers). And Raf Simons is the deity of design devotees. It comes as no surprise, then, that he has nixed sportswear and streetwear from his catwalk collection, just as everyone else is jumping on the bandwagon. "We need a new outline," he said backstage. "I know I was part of it myself, but too many hoodies with prints! You know, something needs to shift."
For Raf, that shift was to emerald green, yolk yellow and ice blue duchesse satin overcoats, knitwear with surrealist extra neck holes under the collarbone, or a third short 'sleeve' at the chest – bringing new meaning to the term 'boob tube'. Images of London punks with heavy eyeliner were printed onto vests and scarves (and adorned further with ring piercings through the fabric), and one-sleeve tops got a cosy update as patterned knit jumpers. It might sound wacky, but that’s just because it’s new. Estimates vary on how long it will take to filter into everyday fashion, but going by the doodled lab coat shown at Virgil’s Off-White show yesterday (an homage, surely, to Raf’s Autumn/Winter '15 collection), it could be as few as three years.