Odd, Sinister, Refined. Raf Simons AW22

Picture this: Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Pierre Cardin and “Matrix“, all on one spooky, audience-less runway. Only Raf Simons could pull that off. After pandemic collections that furthered his explorations of youth and distress (and sometimes youth in distress), for autumn-winter 2022, the tense, urgent shapes of his rioters and revolutionaries has dissipated into a silhouette that is abjectly elegant, with draped pleated trousers, slender cloak wraps, black blouson bomber jackets, and backpacks with silken trains. Set in a stately interior, with glass chandeliers and furniture draped in red fabric, the collection’s video looks like a scene from a brooding horror movie that would would chill you to the bone. That’s how Simons works: say nothing and project it all through the clothing and the environment. This season he gave but one hint about his collection: Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s 1559 painting “Netherlandish Proverbs“. The opening look, a blue cloak suspended from a hat designed in partnership with Stephen Jones, is almost a one-to-one remake of the garb worn by the painting’s central figure. From here, the hood-hats continue in luxurious colors, emphasizing the thinness of Simons’s silhouette. Surprisingly, the headwear, seen through a contemporary lense, makes you think of Cardin’s futurist ideas dating back to the 1960s. And now, here’s where things get even more eerie: prairie dresses made from what appears to be latex, worn with cloaks and long leather neckties (very Trinity). There is something undeniably kinky about the combination; fabrics and ideas taken from the bondage shop and stripped of their obvious hotness. Simons is best when he is in a clash, taking the obvious and making it strange, turning the serene into something suspicious, or electrifying peaceful shapes with a rebellious edge. These combinations are the oddest and most enticing facet of this collection.

Maybe the purpose of being a silent designer is to leave the questions unanswered. To provoke, not explain. Back to the painting. Art historical interpretations of the work cast the people in the town’s square as fools, acting out proverbs of the era like “banging one’s head against a brick wall,” or “the world is turned upside down.” What does that central figure in the blue cloak depict, the one whose very cloak opens this collection? A man who has been cheated on by his wife. What can we extrapolate from that? How could Simons relate? For a designer who rarely speaks publicly, he manages, always, to say a lot about himself, his life, his obsession in his work.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.