Raf Simons just turned 50 in January and for 20 of those, he’s been gracing the fashion world with his radical ideas and designs that are youthful bordering on rebellious. Ask any longtime fashion enthusiasts and even newcomers in the industry today, and it’s bound that most of them will mention Raf Simons as one of the most influential personalities. His modest and humble attitude towards his own work would not be the typical approach of anyone who wanted to stay relevant in the industry but that only brings his name among the best ones of this time as his talent and notable creations speak for his expertise.
A split-second decision towards fashion
Design was ingrained in Raf’s interests long before he wanted to pursue fashion. He studied industrial and furniture design at a university in Genk, Belgium. Some of the people he met while in university remain close friends and collaborators of his to this day but the most integral moment of his college life that changed his life and career for good would amount only to a split second.
Raf was interning for Walter Van Beirendonck, one of the Antwerp Six members, when he was brought to his first fashion show: Martin Margiela’s iconic all-white collection for Spring 1990. Raf Simons would describe the moment in interviews later on but it was a deeply personal moment that Raf was moved and decided to work in fashion instead. It could be compared to a Eureka moment to an inventor who just discovered something world-altering. He discovered there was more to fashion than all glitz and glamour.
His eponymous label
He graduated and became furniture designer for multiple galleries and people’s own interiors but upon the encouragement of Linda Loppa, the head at the fashion department of Antwerp Royal Academy, he turns into a self-trained menswear designer.
His eponymous label is established in 1995. As a newcomer, he first showed his earliest collection as an 8mm film featuring football star Branquinho. It would be two years later in 1997 when Raf would present his collection in an actual runway. This allowed him to show his collection live to the public. It hinted at his “outsiderism” aesthetic and youth influences.
For his work on the Raf Simons label, he was selected to be a professor at University of Applied Arts’ fashion department in Vienna in 2000 and holds it for five years. His label would celebrate 22 years this year but even with more than 2 decades of existence, there’s continuous evolution in his own brand as does his other collaborative works.
The man behind many fashion houses
While most designers of his caliber could boast of an intensive career within their own fashion houses, Raf Simons’ work exceeds his own eponymous label. In 2005, to the surprise of many, he starts designing for Jil Sander for their men’s and womenswear collections. He was self-trained for designing menswear, but he proved to be a natural when it comes to designs for women as well.
His SS11 collection under Jil Sander would be one of the most iconic as he creates a Techno Couture collection. It was the first time the fashion house experimented with couture and Raf infused a touch of his own street style-inspired designs into the mix. It featured gowns, only they gave the illusion of t-shirts tucked into skirts.
In 2012, he took on the role of creative director for Dior, beginning with their Fall 2012 Haute Couture collection. A documentary called Dior and I was made detailing some of his work for the fashion house but he soon left Dior, another surprise to the fashion industry. Though it’s always been impressive that he’s able to concoct a collection with a limited 8-week time frame, this fast-paced and frantic environment just shunned the creativity and fun out of the process. This move would make him the top trending fashion designer according to Google.
He would move on to collaborations. As a lover of Stan Smiths, he collaborated with Adidas to create his own version with a perforated R on one side, which was immediately a hit. With the artist Sterling Ruby, he created a collection embedded with patriotic references to American culture and heritage. For his Spring 2017 collection, he collaborates yet again with the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.
To bring us to the most recent, he’s been appointed as the chief creative officer for Calvin Klein, which is not an odd choice as CK’s youthful collections reminiscent of the ‘90s reflect back the same aesthetic in Raf Simons’ own label. This means Raf Simons has access and permission to have a say in all aspects and subsets of Calvin Klein, even Calvin Klein Home and the business sides of the brand.
In a recent collection, Raf takes a dark turn with horror inspirations and Wild Wild West.
Iconic stars and moments in Raf Simons
Unless you live under a rock, no one would probably forget that impeccable moment in pop culture history when Jennifer Lawrence won an Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook and tripped on her way up the stairs to claim her trophy. Raf Simons would always be a part of that moment as the actress wore his creation from Dior’s Spring 2013 Haute Couture collection. It’s probably the funniest way to immortalize an iconic dress but it’s also the most interesting way, nothing short of what Raf Simons’ designs are.
Aside from the obvious supporter and also the campaign girl, Millie Bobby Brown, Kanye West, Off-White designer Virgil Abloh, and basically every hip hop artist and a handful of Instagram influencers are lovers of Raf Simons, both the designer and his label. His biggest fan of all would be A$AP Rocky.
Throughout all the collaborations and external work for other fashion houses, Raf Simons has maintained, adapted, and evolved his own personal inclination towards menswear and street style. Though there’s definitely more to get out of this remarkable designer, his name is already on top in the industry and will be associated as one of the, if not the most innovative menswear designer and an overall authority figure in fashion.
Places to Shop for Raf Simons