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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Crude. Prada SS23

Finally, after two and half (fashion) weeks, a truly brilliant collection. Of course, it had to be Prada. Spring-summer 2023 might be the most sensual offerings to date coming from the creative dialogue between Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons. At a first glance, one might find it very simple, even straightforward. But the more you dig into the details, into its raw, yet cinematic effect, and the oddness of silhouettes and lenghts and material clashes, you realise that another word describes it better: “crude”. For the show, the Prada Fondazione was covered in black craft paper. Cut into the set walls were windows behind which short videos by the director Nicolas Winding Refn fame played: clips of a coat on a wooden dining chair, an empty kitchen, women in repose on couches. Were these scenes of domestic bliss? Knowing our protagonists, and understanding the two years we’ve all been through, that doesn’t seem likely. Instead, what Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons seemed to be after was some sort of truth – peering behind the curtain for a glimpse of reality or its close verisimilitude. “There is a sense of the life of women,” Miuccia Prada said in a statement. “Life and humanity crafts the clothes – not superficial embellishment, but traces of living, leaving marks. This idea of clothes shaped by humanity excites us.” The first look, in its corporate anonymity, seemed to belie that statement. Where’s the humanity in a dour gray top coat and lighter gray button-down onesie? But before long, the layers came undone. The boxy tailoring of that coat, for example, was replaced with an old-fashioned nightie, the familiar logo triangle embroidered on its tulle neckline. Picking up on the craft paper of the set, they used paper – “the most simple, modest material” – for dresses whose color and print didn’t quite meet the edges. These were the most thought-provoking pieces in the collection. The white outlines at necklines and hems gave the sleeveless shifts an unfinished, work-in-progress quality, like an artist made clothes out of a freshly painted canvas, rather than putting it in a frame. Clearly, Miuccia had her autumn-winter 2004 collection as the reference, where a similar technique was used for dresses and coats. Knit sweaters and skirts, meanwhile, came pre-creased in places, and the skirts’ slits were left raw-edged, with the slips underneath following the same almost ragged lines. The white nighties and peignoirs over black briefs and the icy silk duchesse dresses tapped into beloved parts of the house archives. Trained for decades to see Mrs. Prada as fashion’s fortune teller, a mostly silent arbiter with an outsized influence, we come to Prada shows eager to know how we’ll want to dress next season. On that topic, the house founder and her partner had a new idea, and it goes back to that skinny legged, stripped of all excesses all-in-one. Many designers are thinking wider and fuller for spring – the overwhelming vibe is go big or go home. But here the silhouette was tapered to the ankle and punctuated with a boxy coat or jacket and chunky cowboy boot mary janes. A new Prada uniform? In his own comments, Simons said, “more than any other collection, this one is filled with different views… different bodies of work, within a single body of work – shifting between disparate form languages.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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