Stripped-Back. Raf Simons SS23

Raf Simons presented his spring-summer 2023 collection in London, during a sort of mini-fashion-week (this week we’ve seen shows by Alexander McQueen, Roksanda and a couple of other British brands) that accompanies the Frieze art fair. The designer planned to show during the regular LFW, but the news of Queen Elizabeth’s death made him postpone the show. While other designers in London presented collections during the mourning period, most of them kept a respectful temperance – minutes of silence, quiet soundtracks. Simons’ rave-like outing just wouldn’t feel right at that moment. And in result, the collection gained a lot from being off the hectic fashion schedule. It really felt like the “moment”. A thousand young people, students, artists, designers, musicians, DJs, and fashion types, all pressed together in the chaotic spirit of euphoric togetherness, watched the show happening on a runway that minutes before was a bar. “I decided to come to London last year, because I felt the energy was incredible,” Simons declared. Post-Covid, post-Brexit, he observed, “you feel London, and the country is a hurt animal, but it’s an animal that’s ready to go out. There’s something positive within the negative. I saw it again, this week, going to galleries. Somehow people mix up here, start conversations. Coming to the city, the streets, the community is always inspiring.”

Acting at the edge, in the margins has always been the grounding of his brand. These gritty, dystopian times feel a lot like Raf Simons’s underground beginnings in the 1990s – it took him back to his memories as a kid of jostling with friends, faking tickets to get into fashion shows. “So I thought, let’s not do that. Let’s just invite everybody instead. I didn’t want a show for 300 people sitting in rows. This is a show that’s pure democracy. No hierarchy. A London explosion of youth, life, dancing, and being together. So,” he added, “I was thinking a lot about the body, in relation to dressing up and going out and performing.” As a brutal note-to-self, he embedded prints of scrawled works by the late Ghent artist Philippe Vandenberg on t-shirts and dresses. “They’re cruel words, like ‘Kill them all and dance.’ But he didn’t mean killing people – he meant killing things that you’re doing creatively in order to move on and explore further.” On charged the bar-top show, a propulsion towards coolly minimized tailoring and dancer’s leggings, inspired by classical ballet, partly an upshot of his recent collaboration with the New York Ballet choreographer Justin Peck. The onesies Simons had co-designed with Miuccia Prada reappeared, but this time shrunken into ‘bodies’ – knitted, or as string vests or shirts. In general, there were many Prada-isms weaved into the collection, but kept in a more raw manner. There was an impression of legs, of sexiness, energy – and with it, a new kind of chic coherence. Looks that have turned a corner from away logos, labels and clunky oversized shapes. A lot of that was down to the cut and evident quality of the gray and black tailoring – hip-length jackets with sawn-off sleeves, trousers reduced to slit-sided miniskirts, pleated shorts, narrow coats, even some simple knee-length skirt suits. “I didn’t want to do deconstruction in a complicated, conceptual way,” he concluded. “I wanted something very stripped-back, very reduced. Not overly styled and overdone.” Still, it was simplicity with substance; a collection strong on plain, almost traditional knitwear, multi-strapped kitten heels, and a Raf Simons wardrobe that is as obviously attractive to women as men. His night in London might have devolved into a long after-rave that Simons and hundreds of students and fans won’t forget, but as far as fashion’s concerned, the main event was his clear-headed consolidation of the directness and modernity that’s refreshing the direction of fashion now.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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