Raf Simons fans on his label’s enduring legacy
After 27 years, the Belgian designer announced the closing of his namesake label. Here, stylists, photographers and designers reflect on the riot, rebellion and influence of Raf Simons.
On Tuesday, Raf Simons announced the closure of his eponymous label, after 27 years of riot, rebellion and originality.
Back in October, Simons presented a collection in London for the first time – a long overdue arrival in the capital that was welcomed with a very British night out. Held in the mammoth Printworks club, it felt like a true-to-form retrospective of the label: pulsating techno soundtrack, crowds of colourful, youthful faces, clothes influenced by raves, all set against a backdrop of political disarray in the UK.
Since the ’90s, the Raf Simons label’s influence on menswear has been seismic, introducing feminine styles in a decade of baggy jeans, adopting skinny fits and casual tailoring that informed much of the way men dress today (womenswear came later, in 2020). His divergent references – the moody dissociation of Joy Division, the red shirts of Kraftwerk, and hedonism of the Haçienda’s storied dancefloors – were repurposed time and time again for an attitude that never felt overindulgent in its nostalgia, but original: a respectful salute from Simons. It’s how he formed a devoted, cult-like following, won over by his taste for the transgressive, and his postmodern take on pre-internet fashion. His work continues as co-creative director at Prada, but for the hardcore fans, it’s a solemn bye-bye.
Below, we hear from the fans.
DAVID OWEN, founder of IDEA Books
“In one very long sentence, what I love, and find quite remarkable, about Raf Simons, is he would take something from his youth, like Joy Division, New Order or Sisters of Mercy (all of which are touch points I happen to share) and then, with the benefit of a decade or two, the garments he made with their graphics, become cultural reference points in their own right – like people 20 years younger than me think of the Raf 2003 New Order parka in the same way I think of Peter Saville’s Power, Corruption & Lies cover. A “second winter of love” courtesy of Raf.”
BROOKE MCCORD, Digital Director at THE FACE
“I love the way that Raf Simons’ clothes make me feel. After first discovering his work on Tumblr as a teenager, I spent hours watching archive shows on YouTube and trawling through reports on style.com (now known as Vogue Runway), particularly drawn to the pounding gabba and techno soundtracks and the imagery surrounding his Black Palms, Woe Unto Those Who Spit on the Fear Generation… The Wind Will Blow It Back and Riot! Riot! Riot! collections. The latter featured bomber jackets stitched with Sonic Youth and Joy Division flyers, Christiane F. movie posters and a South Wales police report relating to the disappearance of Manic Street Preachers’ guitarist Richey Edwards – something that resonated with me having grown up in Wales.
I was so desperate to own some of his work – something I’ve invested in more so in recent years. So the first Raf item I saved up for was his second book, The Fourth Sex, shown to me by former Dazed editor Isabella Burley, who I was assisting at the time, and purchased from IDEA Books. Four hundred and forty pages of pure youth iconography spanning film stills, exhibitions, archive magazine covers and more. It’s my favourite book.”
ANDREW DAVIS, stylist and consultant
“Coming from Manchester to London in the ’90s, I felt quite displaced. The new world of Raf Simons felt like a tribe where I belonged. Finally, someone was making garments for skinny boys. I could also extend my teenage years through his collections – memories of listening to New Order and raving without a care in the world. Browns sold Black Palms SS98 and I bought six tops. I’ve been collecting since then. Using the graphics of Peter Saville later on sealed the deal and magnified my addiction to his work.”
HANNAH TINDLE, Fashion Features Director at ES Magazine
“I remember first understanding the importance of Raf Simons’ work when I was a late teen. As an art student with a massive interest in fashion, I thought his references and the execution of those references were always so incredible. Obviously that extended to his tenures at Jil Sander, Dior, Calvin Klein and Prada. It was a privilege being able to see what I now know was the label’s last show at Printworks and I can’t wait to see what he keeps doing at Prada.”
AARON ESH, menswear designer
“For me, Raf’s legacy is in his ability to create dialogue without words. Subcultures, youth culture, rebellion; The Fourth Sex, Riot! Riot! Riot! His desire to communicate through his collections, his use of colour for Jil Sander, skinny suits to big coats, Raf hair by Guido, his use of print, his use of collaboration, references. The way he was part of the system, but not part of the system. He made clothes, collections, shows and fashion that was fucking cool.”
ALASDAIR GRIFFITHS, Art Director at THE FACE and Simmonds Ltd.
“My first memory of loving the brand was seeing the Teenage Summercamp work from the early 2000s. The bomber jackets, the balaclavas and the New Order parkas. From there I found the work of Peter De Potter and Sterling Ruby whose collaborations with Raf Simons really worked a treat. It was always too expensive for me to buy until I worked for Dover Street Market and used their very generous staff allowance to indulge in my new hobby of collecting Raf T‑shirts. I was lucky enough to go to the last show at Printworks which I now feel very grateful to have been able to attend. If I was to sum up Raf Simons in one word: magic.”
JEANIE ANNAN-LEWIN, stylist and Creative Director at Perfect Magazine
“Raf to me has always been a trailblazer. His use of technical design along with his love affair with different subcultures has always fascinated me – he was completely ahead of his time, and I think he was one of the first designers I saw fully collaborating with artists like Sterling Ruby. I just really loved the purposeful approach to tailoring with a hint of disruptive youth. He pretty much owns the bomber jacket.”
MEGAN WINSTONE, photographer
“The AW01 show was a fan collection. Raf had models walk through scaffolding wearing pieces adorned with patches referencing grunge and his idols: David Bowie’s headshot on a long sleeve and fanzine tear sheets from a Sonic Youth gig. He dedicated a bomber to the Manic Street Preachers’ guitarist, Richey Edwards, who went missing in 1995. As a Welsh goth descended from Blackwood, South Wales (Edwards’ hometown), it’s a special tribute with a strong narrative within each stitch. The back detail is arranged in patches with Edwards top centre like a religious stamp, and a “Have you seen Richey?” South Wales Police missing person poster, released upon his disappearance, on the waistline. We all mourn the loss of Richey, and this piece is devotion.”