Raf Simons and Art
When one thinks of a designer whose work coexists in both the art and fashion worlds, Raf Simons is the first who comes to mind.
September 21, 2017
The Belgian designer started his eponymous label in 1998 after an internship with Walter Van Beirendonck. Not long after, he would make the acquaintance of Veronique Branquinho, Willy Vanderperre, and Olivier Rizzo—the latter two remaining his longest-standing collaborators.
What Raf has made from the very beginning is well-made clothes. He merged romance with utilitarianism in a clothing line as no one else has: items that appeared as if they were from the future. When I first saw his clothes I was in awe: it was rooted in a subculture that I recognized but represented a precise minimalism that reminded me of how I used to feel when confronted with Helmut Lang. Minimal and utilitarian but with a human touch. Unisex. Futuristic and yet always current, connected to politics or a certain environment. Based on a concept and never far from artists he is inspired by. Works became collaborative. His shows were a performance that, from early on, touched on the idea of a dystopian future. The clothes became a uniform for survival.
It is the youth and American subculture that inform him. He changes what we see as fashion. Bridging high and low: drawing from art and obsessions of the youth. Music is not far away. Remember Joy Division? For his homage to Blade Runner for his SS18 show, he transformed New York’s Chinatown to the Chinatown of the film with a soundtrack by Joy Division.
Raf Simons SS18
His seven year tenure at Jil Sander a critical success. He followed this with a short stint at Christian Dior, where we would see him realize collaborations with artists. A collaboration with LA-based painter Sterling Ruby started with a collaboration for his own line for FW14 Raf Simons/Sterling Ruby. It would continue at Dior, but their combined vision was not truly realized until Raf became the Chief Creative Officer of Calvin Klein, when Ruby’s works were incorporated into not only the set for the fashion show but also the Calvin Klein flagship stores.
FW14 Raf Simons/Sterling Ruby Ad Campaign
Calvin Klein Madison Avenue Flagship by Sterling Ruby
For Raf Simon’s previous SS17 Collection, a collaboration with the Mapplethorpe foundation saw the late photographer’s images integrated into the collection: the sublime black and white flowers giving a timelessness and softness to his minimal lines.
Raf Simons SS17 Ad Campaign
More recently at Calvin Klein were models, in undergarments or jeans, admiring art, a collaboration with the Andy Warhol foundation that incorporated his art into the collection. A pair of Calvin Klein Andy Warhol jeans? Maybe “Yes, please”—especially when we realize that the collection is inspired by American life: an homage to both the beauty of America and the horror of American life. It is fitting that a designer who has been enduringly inspired by youth and American culture is designing for a brand that, for decades, has defined this so-called American life and an image of rebellious youth. Freedom.
Indeed, Raf’s clothes embody the notion of freedom to explore. Freedom to be and freedom to realize that what we wear are concepts that we hold dear, and sometimes the freedom to introduce to the world what he, as a creator, holds dear.
Looks from Calvin Klein SS18 Collection
Calvin Klein FW17 Ad Campaign (image on billboard is from Calvin Klein SS17 Ad campaign)