The burning question on everybody's lips these days in the Fashionsphere is about Raf Simons and his so-called arrival at the head of Calvin Klein. Is he really going for it after his departure from Dior? A departure that has left, let's face it, the venerable Fashion house in dire straits. As we've already said it, a designer needs time to create, to be inspired, to visit exhibitions, countries, to see the world (or at least a part of this world). To be honest, we don't want Raf Simons to go to Calvin Klein though we would definitely support him. This break from the never-ending circus that was/is Dior has been beneficial for the Flemish designer. Just look at his Autumn Winter 2016 collection inspired by Twin Peaks (and so many other things!) to be convinced. Boiling with energy, creativity and a desire to make an impression that left everybody crave for his über-desirable clothes. Want a last proof that this collection was important and definitely part of the Fashion history? Look at the recently-released ad campaign shot by Willy Vanderperre, starring Luca Lemaire (Raf's favourite) and taking place in some dark woods. Haunting & disturbing.
Pitti Uomo is a place full of memories for Raf Simons. He celebrated the 10 year anniversary of his label here. But he also showcased a Jil Sander collection here, for Spring Summer 2011. A magnificent & vivid collection. This year, he was coming back to present his SS17 collection along with other prestigious guests such as Gosha Rubchinskiy or the Japanese label, Visvim. But more important than all these facts, Florence & particularly the Pitti Uomo is the place where Raf Simons' fate in Fashion took a decisive turn, this is where everything began. So you can easily imagine that for his comeback to the Italian city, he had to present something special, something huge, something that will, once again, leave his audience flabbergasted. As part of this "special" scenery, guests were welcome by mannequins (both men & women) all clad in archive pieces. People could touch them (though we can imagine the great respect they had to show before these creations) and in a way, they were surrounded by the Past to see the future collection. The past is always important when it comes to creation; you need the past to go forward, you simply cannot do without it.
This time, and after paying a vibrant tribute to David Lynch, Raf Simons chose to look toward the work of a controversial & celebrated artist: Robert Mapplethorpe. Known for his love for S&M, the photographer used to shoot the gay & fetish community of New York in the 70's and 80's. The Spring Summer 2017 collection is curating Mapplethorpe's photographs displayed on the garments (but not in a boring way of course!); this is definitely a collaboration between two artists, two geniuses and the latest of a long list for Simons. Remember his work with Peter Saville or Sterling Ruby for his eponymous brand or, with Andy Warhol for a Dior collection. For the designer, Fashion & Art naturally interact and they both are part of his DNA. His dialogue with Fashion & Art is primordial, his language is unique.
You have to approach this collection like an exhibition. These garments are definitely works of art curating pictures of a dead artist , portraits like Mapplethorpe's signature going way beyond the idea of decoration. Fans could wear a printed tee-shirt of their beloved artist, there's no value to that; this is genuinely about the emotion of Fashion. How to put a value to that? As far as we are concerned, this is priceless. But here, we are talking about fashion so obviously, it will cost a thing!
In this collection, Raf Simons is experimenting just like Mapplethorpe was exploring the dark side of gay sexuality. The result is bold, inventive, controversial, transgressive and above all, disrupting the "usual" way men are dressing. The designer is going very very far, pushing the limits of menswear somewhere yet to be discovered. Mostly in black and white, the printed uniforms are putting the figure of Mapplethorpe on a pedestal. A minimal palette of colours to let the clothes do the talking as the pictures are in an intense black&white. Some light is brought to this collection with the help of such primary colours as blue & red and their variation, purple. A few colours to let the drama make its appearance. A lot of shirts are cut in a purposely oversize fit as if they were over-shirts. Sometimes they are worn off the shoulders for a sloppy attitude. Lab-like coats (a Raf Simons gimmick) are slightly boxy. With this collection, Raf Simons is also talking to the female part of his audience with squared crop tops, sleeveless dresses looking like long tee-shirts (or is it the contrary?) paired with tailored slim trousers. There are some ballsy moves in Raf Simons' work -when facing Mapplethorpe you had to be ballsy!- in the shape of very fetish-like patent leather trousers or with apron-like dresses showing a lot of skin if worn alone. And what to say of the leather officer caps adorned with chains or the belts firmly tied around some models' necks? Do we really have to draw you a picture? Knits are cut short like crop V-neck sleeveless sweaters or on the contrary, knits are giant and so obsessing; asymmetrical heavy cardigans presented in different colors with exaggerated sleeves and amazing proportions. Stunning and reminiscent of the incredible AW16 pieces with their monstrous larger than life dimensions! Another stunning piece is the sleeveless puffa-like jackets and their backs printed with things that are anything but innocent (we can spot some penises here and there...).
Another season and another memorable collection for Raf Simons. Since his departure from Dior, he seems so boundless & free, we hope he will continue to take our breath away. And who knows, perhaps one day, a designer will put pictures of Raf's creations on his clothes to do homage to the creativity & irreverence of a truly brilliant fashion designer! That would only be poetic justice!
Words by Yann Sackville-West & Charles Margueritte