Raf Simons might be the most revered working designer in fashion today. The mere announcement that he would show his FW17 collection in New York legitimized the city’s fledgling men’s fashion week, instantly turning it into a must-attend for critics and buyers worldwide. Simons further cemented his legend status earlier this summer at the 2017 CFDA Awards, where he won best womenswear designer for his work at Calvin Klein and best menswear designer for his own line, equalling a feat that had only been achieved once before, by Calvin Klein himself, who took home the double win in 1993.
Just recently, Vogue added a number of Raf’s most famous collections to its online library of fashion shows, while the designer’s SS18 menswear show had New York Fashion Week attendees crowding under clattering trains on the Manhattan Bridge to catch a glimpse of his Blade Runner-inspired designs.
Though Simons is rightfully credited for his masterful tailoring, helping pioneer slim trousers in the late ’90s, while brilliantly experimenting with oversized, draped, and asymmetrical silhouettes throughout his career, it’s perhaps his longtime use of musical references and pop culture graphics that his fans love the most. More than a decade before fashion’s most revered houses began mining streetwear for inspiration and profit, Simons was there, sending anarchy symbols and Motörhead logos down the runway at a time when such signifiers conveyed anything but luxury.
Despite his intellectual and technical achievements, Simons' embrace of such subcultural markers just might be the most visionary, influential aspects of his storied career. To prove that, we’ve rounded up ten side-by-side examples of Raf Simons items that have clearly predated the coolest of the cool by years. Mind you, with one possible exception, we’re not accusing other designers of ripping off Raf, rather we’re simply pointing out that his instincts, tastes, and interest have always been years ahead of the game.
Raf Simons’ FW 03 “Closer” Collection Vs. Supreme’s SS 13 Drop
Raf’s influence on skate kings Supreme is famous, particularly among young fashion fans, many of whom were still in grade school when he dropped his FW03 “Closer” collection. For that show, named after Joy Division’s final studio album, Simons collaborated with former Factory Records graphic designer Peter Saville, who produced iconic album art (and thus T-shirts) for that legendary band, as well its second incarnation, New Order, and labelmates like OMD.
Simons applied Saville’s clean, graphic art—including the flowers from "A Basket of Roses" by French artist Henri Fantin-Latour that graced New Order’s 1983 Power, Corruption & Lies album—to fishtail parkas and hoodies, the former of which recently made headlines when a group of three jackets hit Grailed for a package price of $20,000. Ten years later, Supreme used the same floral motif on a T-shirt, hoodie, and bucket hat, producing some of its most legendary—and coveted—pieces of all time.
Although more widely known, that’s actually the second half of the story. Supreme first worked with Saville in in 2005, producing T-shirts, skateboards, and stickers featuring the graphic radio pulses that adorned the cover Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album, which Raf also happened to have used back in 2003, placing them on a leather jacket, sweater, and, of course, a fishtail parka as part of “Closer.” Simons actually still works with Saville too, famously tapping him to redesign the Calvin Klein logo and including even more Joy Division and New Order artwork on T-shirts and lanterns for his SS18 show at New York Fashion Week: Men’s.
Raf Simons’ SS 98 “Black Palms” Collection Vs. Valentino FW 17 Menswear Show
Though he might be the most famous, Peter Saville isn’t the first legendary English album cover artist whose work went down one of Raf’s runways. That distinction belongs to Jamie Reid, the anarchist artist whose cut-and-paste “ransom note” style artwork covered many a Sex Pistols product and helped define the visual language of late 1970s punk rock. Though not an official collaboration, Simons hired Belgian artist Jos Brands to hand-paint trompe l’oeil “T-shirts” directly onto models’ bodies for his SS98 collection, which was only the designer’s second runway show ever.
One “T-shirt” featured the famous cover art from the Sex Pistols first and only studio album, Never Mind the Bollocks. Nearly 20 years later, Valentino creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli hired Jamie Reid himself to revisit his signature cut-and-paste graphic style on coats, sweaters, caps, and capes for that label’s FW17 menswear show, proving once again that Raf is way ahead of his peers.
Raf Simons’ FW 2002 “Virginia Creeper” Collection Vs. Off-White’s “Nebraska” Sweatshirt
For his FW02 show, Raf turned to American collegiate looks for inspiration, showing a now-famous tattered crewneck sweatshirt reading “Nebraska” across the front. Thirteen years later, Off-White impresario (and one-time avowed Raf fanatic) Virgil Abloh showed a “Nebraska” hoodie in his SS15 womenswear show, later integrating that same graphic into his men’s line and even placing it right on a crewneck sweatshirt, where you can buy it today. Though Simons has never mentioned the “Nebraska” sweatshirt, he did (politely) tell GQ that he found Abloh unoriginal.
Raf Simons’ SS 03 “Consumed” Collection Vs. Zana Bayne’s Leather harness
Simons’ SS03 collection featured plenty of graphic T-shirts, stark, black military looks, and lots of leather, including jackets, vests, and harnesses. Though not overtly sexual, both the black leather and military garb alluded to BDSM gear, which was especially so for a three-pocket harness Raf showed on a shirtless model, gleefully adding a pack of Marlboro cigarettes to the look the same the way a dandy might don a pocket square.
Fourteen years on, and cult leather designer Zana Bayne is making a four-pocket harness for men that recalls Simons’ design. Though perhaps not an overt bite, it’s notable that this military pouch-and-harness design still resonates with designers and consumers, and we can’t help but wonder if Dazed & Confused magazine was nodding to Simons’ 03 show when it styled Zanya Bayne’s leather rig on a cigarette-smoking model.
Raf Simons’ FW 01 “Riot Riot Riot” Collection Vs. Body High’s Camo Patch Bomber Jacket
If there’s one Simons show as revered as “Closer,” it’s most-certainly his FW01 “Riot Riot Riot” collection, which included avant-garde layering, black-and-white punk-style patches, and plenty of bomber jackets. Recently, Kanye West made one such jacket famous when he was photographed wearing the faded and patched camouflage camouflage bomber on the street.
This particular Simons bomber also happens to look quite a bit like a recently-available camouflage jacket from Body High, which matches Raf's design right down to its washed-out cotton material and square, black-and-white punk patches. Never mind the 16-year age difference.
Raf Simons’ SS 06 Collection Vs. Off-White’s SS 15 Net Top
We’re not here to diss Off-White, but a number of the sheer net tops from Raf’s SS06 show do bear a striking resemblance to the sheer net top Abloh included in his SS15 menswear show (particularly if you zoom in). Sure, Abloh’s netting is smaller, and they’re not the exact same color white (ironically, Raf’s is more of an “off-white”), but the materials and structure are similar, and it’s notable that Off-White is pushing such a sheer top to a streetwear world that might have viewed it as “too feminine” in the past. Raf pushes boundaries and opens doors, and could definitely have influenced this one too.
Raf Simons’ FW 16 Collection Vs. N. Hoolywood’s SS 18 Oversized Varsity Cardigan
Lest you think that only Raf’s older collections were far-sighted and influential, we’re including this item from one his more-lauded recent shows to prove that he’s still ahead of the game, intuiting trends years before other designers. For his FW16 collection, Simons showed a number of oversized varsity cardigans and sweaters, an item that also popped up just this week in N. Hoolywood’s SS18 show at New York Fashion Week: Men’s.
N. Hoolywood designer Daisuke Obana is well-known for presenting thematic collections with detailed backstories (JFK inspired this one, as the designer show his progress from prep school kid to American president), so it might be unfair to say Simons directly influenced this item, but the similarities in oversized silhouette are certainly notable.
Raf Simons’ SS 00 “Summa Cum Laude” Collection Vs. The 2015 Palace “Tri-Ferg” Flight Jacket
No other designer loves bomber jackets quite like Raf (sorry Demna), so it’s no surprise that he also included one in his SS00 show. This bomber bears the triangular “Pyramid” logo of ultra-intense Dutch gabber artists Rotterdam Terror Corps on the front and back, a design recalled by Palace’s 2015 bomber jacket which features the brand’s triangular “Tri-Ferg” logo on the front and back. It’s not exactly the same design, but as skateboarding’s biggest proponents of techno, it’s not hard to believe that the Palace crew were aware of this logo and the popularity of black flight jackets among gabber fans around the turn of the millennium.
Raf Simons’ FW 01 “Riot Riot Riot” Collection Vs. Sandro’s FW 15 Men’s Collection
We could probably write a whole story on just how influential the punky, patchwork motif from Simons’ “Riot Riot Riot” collection has turned out to be. The designer himself has revisited it a number of times (notably in his FW14 collection) and it continues to pop up across the fashion landscape. Just like Body High’s bomber jacket before it, this patched, crewneck sweatshirt from Sandro’s FW15 menswear show sure looks like Raf’s patched, crewneck sweatshirt from 2001. Both sets of patches are black and white rectangles featuring a grainy, Xeroxed zine look. Place them on the same exact item of clothing and Raf’s prescience is clear.
Raf Simons’ SS 03 “Consumed” Collection Vs. Givenchy’s FW 2017 Shark Hoodie
Former Givenchy creative director Ricardo Tisci got a lot of mileage out of bold animal graphics. First came Rottweilers in his FW men’s collection, then came sharks. Now, at the behest of new creative director, Clare Waight Keller, Givenchy’s breaching sharks are back on T-shirts and hoodies. But neither Tisci nor Waight Keller were the first to put a shark on a high fashion hoodie. That was, of course, Raf Simons, who included a breaching shark next to a girl on a hoodie way back in 2003.
Andrew Luecke is a writer living in New York. His new book Cool: Style, Sound and Subversion, is currently available at Rizzoli.