Belgian fashion designer Raf Simons launched his own menswear label in 1995 and later diversified into womenswear. He was creative director at Jil Sander (2005–2012), Christian Dior (2012–2015) and Calvin Klein (2016–2018). As of 1 April 2020, he is the co-creative director of Prada, in partnership with Miuccia Prada, and more recently announced he would be shuttering his eponymous label.
born on 12 January 1968 in Neerpelt, Belgium, Raf Simons graduated in Industrial Design and Furniture Design from LUCA School of Arts in Genk in 1991. During this time, Simons congregated at Antwerp cafe Witzli-Poetzli with friends Olivier Rizzo, Willy Vanderperre, David Vandewal and then-girlfriend Veronique Branquinho to discuss fashion. He began his career as a furniture designer, having interned at the design studio of Walter Van Beirendonck. Beirendonck took him to Paris Fashion Week and that was when Simons first saw a fashion show—Martin Margiela’s all-white show in 1991—which inspired him to diversify to fashion design.
Encouraged by Linda Loppa, head of the fashion department at Antwerp Royal Academy, Simons became a self-trained menswear designer and launched his eponymous label in 1995. In a short time, Simons became iconic for revolutionising menswear with his skinny silhouettes and anti-fashion spirit. Fall–Winter 1997 saw his first runway show in Paris, France, with a look of ‘American college students and English schoolboys with a background of New Wave and Punk’. Simons’s early design aesthetic focused on youth culture, particularly music which has formed an integral part of Simons’s body of work.
In March 2000, Simons shut down his company to take a sabbatical after his Fall–Winter 2000 collection. Following a new deal with Belgian manufacturer, Gysemans Clothing Industry, the company was back up the following year. During this time, Simons’s international prominence grew with the collection for Spring–Summer 2002 becoming one of his most influential due to its ‘layered, hooded, sinister image of the urban guerrilla’. The company was restructured in October 2004 with a distribution deal with Futurenet and Mitsui & Co., followed by a license agreement with Futurepresent. This deal came to an end with the Spring–Summer 2011 collection.
The aesthetic of the Raf Simons brand has changed since 2005, as former Arena Homme Plus editor Jo-Ann Furniss asserts: “The key turning point was A/W 04-05 (Waves), when the obsessive youth culture codes of his past were turned into clothes that were purely about shape and form.” In June 2005, Raf by Raf Simons was launched, which was sold at a lower price point. Simons also released the book “Raf Simons: Redux” about the first 10 years of his career. Alongside the publication, there was also an exhibition of Simons’s work and an outdoor fashion show at the Pitti Immagine Uomo tradeshow in Florence, Italy for a retrospective of the designer’s career.
In 2008, two flagship Raf Simons stand-alone stores opened in Tokyo and Osaka, Japan, in collaboration with the artists Sterling Ruby and Roger Hiorns. The Autumn–Winter 2009 collection saw the first Raf Simons advertising campaign, photographed by Willy Vanderperre. In 2011, Raf by Raf Simons was replaced by Raf Simons 1995, a diffusion line incorporating elements from Simons’s early collections. Raf Simons 1995 also includes homeware. On November 21st 2022, Raf Simons announced via its Social Media Channels that the SS23 collection would be the last collection from the label before he closes it down after the end of the season.
The road ahead? Raf Simons is the new co-creative director of Prada, working in collaboration with Miuccia Prada “with equal responsibilities for creative input and decision making,” the company said in an official statement. “I question the role of creativity in fashion. It brought me to discussions with lots of designers. We have to look at creativity… how can that evolve? At this moment, lots of creatives feel troubled, feel the fashion industry is [becoming] an industry where it might move to excluding creatives… We do believe that collaborating could reposition that aspect of the business,” he told Vogue. No stranger to collaborations, Simons has successfully collaborated with Jil Sander, Christian Dior, and Calvin Klein in the past, so the industry is waiting with abated breath for the consequences of this new role in his career.
Fuelled by his love for both rebellious youth cultures and traditional menswear, Raf Simons presented a radically different image of masculinity, fusing the energy of teenage subcultures with the sharpness and precision of classical sartorial craft.
Menswear, womenswear, home ware.