Belgian-born designer Raf Simons recently made a splash at New York Fashion Week with his drug-riddled FW18 capsule, “Youth in Motion.” Backed by a runway ladled with flowers, bottles of Côtes du Rhône, dark chocolate and Belgian waffles, the collection dealt with notions of excess and the effects of overindulgence.
In particular, Simons called attention to the spiraling world of drugs and hedonism. While the fashion industry is no stranger to pharmaceutical references, “Youth in Motion” refrained from glorifying drug culture, and instead, considered its overwhelming and impactful presence in fashion and entertainment industries.
Since debuting, the collection has evoked passionate debate, with many praising Simons for the fact proceeds from sales will directly benefit non-profits supporting those in addiction recovery. Others, however, are slightly more skeptical of how the pieces will be viewed by younger audiences.
Referencing some of counterculture’s most notorious literary and cinematic pieces, “Youth in Motion” unashamedly disturbs the peaceful frame of “opulent” fashion. In what appears to be an open a dialogue about the influences of drug addiction, we take a closer look at two cult classics that inspired the collection.
Christiane F: Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo
If you haven’t already chanced upon Uli Edel’s visceral 1981 film, Christiane F: Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo (We Children of Bahnhof Zoo) then here’s your chance. Set in the late 1970s in Cold War-era Berlin, the film depicts the cautionary tale of Christiane F. and the opioid crisis that slowly but surely hit the German capital.
Based on Christiane Vera Felscherinow’s autobiography, the film was plagued with a bleak depiction of child prostitution, uncontrollable drug addiction and death.
Simons, like many other Europeans of his generation, has long been aware of Felscherinow’s harrowing world. At a time where David Bowie’s legendary Low was the anthemic soundtrack for many youths, drug culture has long maintained a romanticized glow in music, cinema and pop-culture.
Using the image of actress Nadja Brunkhorst from the official German movie poster alongside the film’s titular typography, Simons’ “Youth In Motion” signifies fashion’s attraction to drug culture (see “heroin chic”), while ultimately questioning its place within high fashion.
‘Drugs’ by Cookie Miller and Glenn O’Brien
While the reference to Christiane F. may escape many, Simons integrates Cookie Miller and Glenn O’Brien’s aptly-titled play called Drugs more overtly.
Similarly, the play is another sort of cautionary tale that details the “chemical entanglements” of its rather straight-laced protagonists. Originally published with “bad cut” yellow and “prescriptive” orange covers, the softback designs were a direct reference to the defining colors of pills and prescription bottles.
Reinterpreted by Simons, the colors become a visual recurring motif throughout “Youth In Motion.” Liberally incorporating references to narcotics: LSD, XTC, GHB, and 2C-B, Simons adapts the play’s “basic” design to create a series of color-coded patches, very much akin to that of the Periodic Table.
As seen below, the patches adorn scarves and trouser kneepads.
Their presence, although stark, digs deep into the lure of using counter culture as a frame of reference. While many could see the excessive use of food and drink in the show as wasteful or even cheap, Simons’ understanding clearly extends itself to how wasteful drug abuse can be. In that regard, one could see “Youth in Motion” as subtle public service announcement – just with a higher price tag.
- Main and Featured Image: Raf Simons