Raf Simons is officially a New Yorker now. After months of anticipation, menswear's most precious designer presented his FW17 collection at the Gagosian Gallery in the Big Apple's Chelsea district last night.
The initial announcement of Raf's first Stateside showing in 21 years, an event that culminated after he took the reigns as Chief Creative Director at Calvin Klein, sent shockwaves across the industry. For the first time in its four-season history, New York's struggling Men's Week would welcome a designer so internationally revered, editors, buyers and influencers from all over the globe would flock en masse a week earlier than their scheduled arrival for the city's much more established womenswear-dedicated affair (which begins on February 8th).
As a designer who's always drawn inspiration from youth subcultures and personal experiences, it's no surprise that Raf decided to pay homage to New York City with this season's line. "I wanted to approach it from the combination of a mindset of someone who comes to New York in the beginning, a kid let’s say," he mentioned to Vogue.com. "I can only see this city as a city which has incredible history, incredible inspiration, and incredible people…. ask me do I think that you should stand up against what is happening in this country, then I say yes."
Simons, a recent immigrant who was in the middle of designing the collection when Donald Trump was elected President, sought to make "American Fashion Great Again" by reminding everyone of just how inspiring the Big Apple really is and relaying his support to its strong-willed denizens.
Slogans such as "I Heart NY," "Youth Project" and "Out Of This Nightmare" were slapped across chunky knitwear, sashes and belts cut from duct tape. "Thank You" and "Have A Nice Day," a nod to the city's Chinatown service workers, were spotted on an assortment of tees, alongside a more random injection of words including "Blow" and "Forest". An interesting touch were the choker-like pearl necklaces that were fastened around models' necks, which mimicked the sort of delicate femininity of rosary beads.
Overall, the soirée added a much-needed jolt to a week filled with a series of lackluster presentations, but that was pretty much guaranteed. I asked some of my colleagues and fellow New Yorkers what they thought about the collection and what it could mean for the future of the city's local fashion industry.
What was your initial thought when you found out that Raf was showing in New York?
Jian DeLeon, Editor At Large: After I finally calmed down, I thought it was the show that could cement NYFW: Men’s future relevancy. As a city whose fashion scene is known more for commerciality than conversation-leading design, Raf Simons could be the anchor the city’s men’s shows need.
Nico Amarca, Fashion Editor US: Surprised, but even more so that he decided to show during Men's Week. New York Fashion Week proper is a much bigger affair and draws a more international crowd, so if anything I would have expected him to show then. But I suppose it does make sense in the end; he's already debuting his collection with Calvin Klein during the womenswear-dedicated week, so spacing them out permits each collection to have their due spotlight.
Greg Babcock, Sponsored Content Editor: I was extremely excited. I feel like a lot of “serious” critics and fashion outlets often avoid New York (and especially New York’s Men’s Week) and simply skip it. Having one of the most talked about, dissected and, quite frankly, influential designers in fashion today operating out of NYC can only be a positive.
Thomas Welch, Lead Photographer: Surprised. When I first learned Raf was coming to Calvin Klein, I assumed his eponymous label would continue in a similar manner to his tenure at Dior. Raf Simons is a fashion god -- and most all show in Paris. New York Men’s Week was unexpected.
Do you think that it boosted New York Fashion Week: Men's prestige at all? Did you notice a difference in attendees, vibe, etc?
Jian DeLeon, Editor At Large: Absolutely. While initially it was unclear if this move was a one-and-done deal, Simons made it clear in his GQ Style interview that he’s trying not to travel as much anymore. He’s moved his brand to New York, and as far as that goes it means his fashion show, too.
With that, his New York men’s week debut epitomized the very appeal of New York. There were long lines to get in, and attendees included everyone from Anna Wintour, A$AP Rocky, Mario Testino, Joseph Altuzarra and Leelee Sobieski. The attendance was a microcosm for the cultural diversity that makes this city so vibrant, bringing together a creative community that really appreciates what Raf does.
Nico Amarca, Fashion Editor US: A bit, but this really only present at Raf's show to be honest. There were definitely some notable media, buyers and photographer in attendance this season, but compared to more established fashion weeks, it still felt a bit underwhelming overall.
Greg Babcock, Sponsored Content Editor: It’s impossible to escape Raf’s influence in the way the modern man dresses, especially as things like bomber jackets, wild proportions and “DIY fashion” are almost ceaselessly trending. While it’d be hard to determine if more people arrived at this edition of NYFW:M’s than normal, there’s no doubt that Raf showing in NYC this season definitely brought a level of hype to the schedule that has been lacking in previous seasons. That’s saying nothing of the sheer amount of Raf Simons pieces I’ve seen on the usual street style peacocks...
Thomas Welch, Lead Photographer: The vibe was entirely different than any Men’s Week show yet. All I’ve heard this week is “How excited I am to see Raf,” so it makes sense that there was a lot of pre-show energy in the room. The fact that Anna Wintour showed up for Men’s Week is a testament to the event’s attendance.
What did Raf bring to Men's Week that other designers didn't?
Jian DeLeon, Editor At Large: Usually, designers who make it big in New York go onto move their shows to Paris, competing at a higher cultural fashion level. Raf is one of the most prominent menswear designers to do the opposite.
Nico Amarca, Fashion Editor US: Originality. Raf is an icon in his own right and will forever influence the menswear landscape. He doesn't play it safe – an offense may designers commit during Men's Week – because he doesn't need to. What Raf did was shed light on the real New York, which beneath the surface is incredibly forward-thinking and brazenly creative, especially in its underground community. You wouldn't see any of that with the other designers showing this week.
Greg Babcock, Sponsored Content Editor: His renown. Not to over-emphasize the point, but Raf is probably in the top three (behind Martin Margiela and Helmut Lang) most influential and impactful designers when examining how guys dress today. I’d say that Raf’s show had the “youthfulness” that other shows either attempt to bring or simply lack. That’s one of Simons’ recurring themes though, so that shouldn’t be too surprising.
I also feel like he attempted try and look at New York in only the way an outsider or visitor could. I know New York is going to be his home for at least the next few seasons, so I think his views on the city will evolve with time. Overall, it’s going to bring a refreshed perspective on both the city and NYFW:M.
Thomas Welch, Lead Photographer: Fashion (with a capital F). Many shows in New York are quite commercial, presenting very wearable garb. Unlike many of the young designers in New york, Raf Simons doesn’t necessarily have to worry about the commercial viability of this product – his shit is going to sell. This certainly makes for an entertaining show.
What could be being based in NYC do for Raf from a creative standpoint? From a business standpoint?
Jian DeLeon, Editor At Large: It represents an interesting shift and signals that maybe New York’s menswear scene is ready to embrace fashion on a cultural level as much as a commercially viable one. There are plenty of great menswear labels coming out of New York with a distinct point-of-view, but a little less than a handful actually go through the rigamarole of showing at fashion week. Perhaps this can change that.
From a manufacturing standpoint, while it can’t really be expected that Simons will depart from the long-held relationships he’s maintained with his European factories, it’d be interesting to see him have some things made in New York down the line. I’d imagine he may do that more with Calvin Klein than his eponymous collection, but given his tendency to push factories’ manufacturing capabilities to the limits, it’s something I’d very much like to see.
Nico Amarca, Fashion Editor US: I think Raf will undoubtedly find his niche here. The Big Apple is a melting pot of creative energy, you just have to know where to go to find it. Paris may be the traditional setting in terms of design and presentation, but New York is where fashion is really absorbed and mutated into something completely refreshing and genre-bending. It's an absurd place, but its denizens sort of thrive off of that frenetic energy. The city's youth have an extremely acute sense of ambition and drive, so paying attention to them and what they create is crucial. Raf's always been inspired by youthful creativity, so I think he'll definitely draw significant inspiration from this.
In terms of business, I'm sure the sales of both Calvin Klein and his eponymous label will boost tremendously. Raf's a New Yorker now, and New Yorkers love to support their own. Look at HBA.
Greg Babcock, Sponsored Content Editor: Outside of a label like Hood By Air or the VFiles shows, New York has stagnated creatively. Sure, we’re the home of Supreme and helped pioneer modern streetwear, but there’s no contesting the fact that NYC has been sluggish at best when it comes to runway fashion. The NYC brands who have been successful in the global conversation are able to distill the beauty and grime of the city itself and translate it through a unique lens.
Raf has built his brand off of tapping into unique subcultures in both his native Belgium and throughout Europe. New York is a city dripping with culture, perspective, and scenes of its own. I personally hope that Simons’ stay will allow him to fuse the inherently European qualities of his design archive with both the spirit of the Big Apple and the spirit of the United States at large.
In terms of business, it’s hard to say how much this will change outside of sheer logistics. Hopefully this means that Raf prices will be more accommodating to the U.S. Dollar, but that’s hard to say.
Thomas Welch, Lead Photographer: Many creatives thrive on travel’s ability to transform and catalyze new ideas. I’m not quite sure if this is part of Raf’s design ethos, but New York City has a certain vibe that can not be denied. The fact that Raf is now in closer proximity to his friend Sterling Ruby has me excited.
In terms of business it’s hard to say. I’m sure the new Calvin Klein connection will boost sales but hope the hype-customer doesn’t latch on the band more than they already have.
Describe the collection in three words.
Jian DeLeon, Editor At Large: Raf in NYC.
Nico Amarca, Fashion Editor US: Timeless, preppy and enigmatic.
Greg Babcock, Sponsored Content Editor: Youthful, contemporary and conservative.
Thomas Welch, Lead Photographer: Watch. Me. Cop.
Jian DeLeon, Editor At Large: The Milton Glaser “I Heart NY” homages, especially the NY sweater. I have a certain fondness for Raf’s pieces referencing specific states, like last season’s boy scout-inspired Detroit patches, or the “Virginia Creeper” Nebraska and Virginia knits from 2003.
Nico Amarca, Fashion Editor US: The black Milton Glaser "I Heart NY" rough-knit sweater. I'm a New Yorker, so I'd never purchase one of those cheap tourist keepsakes, but Raf's iteration makes the slogan seem less cheesy. The topcoat with the glossy lapels was a huge vibe, too.
Greg Babcock, Sponsored Content Editor: I loved the topcoats tied up with the tape featured on the show invitations. While I’d be curious to get a better, up-close look at the graphic tees, I have no doubt that his “I [Heart] NY” sweater is going to be the sell-out piece. Don’t sleep on the suiting either—I saw both relaxed and (fairly) trim silhouettes.
Thomas Welch, Lead Photographer: The “I Heart You” sweater is so simple but complete fire. Cheeky nod to NYC. I also loved the graphic tees that were sneakily styled underneath the taped blazers and oversized sweaters. I expect everyone will be joining the “Raf Simons Youth Project” this fall.
How did this collection compare to FW16?
Jian DeLeon, Editor At Large: You can’t really compare Raf collections. I’d argue he’s one of the few designers actually toeing the line between clothing and wearable art. Each season has a specific theme that may not resonate with the same person in terms of “I want to dress like that,” but still elicits a visceral reaction. You may not like all the films in a director’s oeuvre, but if he or she is a true auteur, each one delivers a certain context.
Nico Amarca, Fashion Editor US: Twin Peaks, which inspired FW16's line, is my absolute favorite television show of all time. So I think that pretty much sums it up. This season was definitely a strong follow-up though, albeit more accessible and with less statement pieces (no sheeny abominable snowman puffer jackets this time around).
Greg Babcock, Sponsored Content Editor: I thought it was rather conservative if we’re talking first impressions. However, considering that New York’s fashion scene has historically been known for creating more “commercial” clothing (a reputation that still exists today), I wonder if Raf thought about that going in. These pieces would do well simply because Simons’ name is stitched on the tag, but I think there’s a balanced approach here. This collection should be commercially successful regardless.
Fear not OG Raf fans: there’s definitely unique twists — the extended sleeves, leg warmer-esque arm accessories and the tattered knits come to mind — but when you really strip this collection back, these pieces are all really wearable. Considering his last Fall/Winter collection featured varsity sweaters that proportionally dwarfed full-grown men, these pieces seem fairly accessible right off the rack.
Thomas Welch, Lead Photographer: FW16 didn’t really do it for me to be honest. Exaggerated, oversized silhouettes were pushed by way too many designers last fall. I do enjoy my fashions but I like them most when it’s wearable outside of fashion week.
"NYC needs Raf Simons because..."
Jian DeLeon, Editor At Large: Raf Simons told BOF’s Lauren Sherman, “When you have a voice and you want to have a voice, you cannot just walk around and do your thing. When you have a voice you should use it.” In the context of a post-Trump era, it makes a bold statement that Simons is reinforcing the subversive uniforms and spirit of emigration that have historically made American culture great.
In times like these, fashion can seem more trivial than ever. But Raf Simons reminds us of the soft power clothes can possess. Oversized sweaters can feel like cozy suits of armor. But waistcoats secured by two tenuous pieces of duct tape remind us that no matter how vulnerable we feel in this uncertain era, we have to do our best to hold it all together.
Nico Amarca, Fashion Editor US: It needs others to recognize that it's actually an incredibly inspiring place that's home to some of the most talented individuals in the world. The commerciality of its fashion weeks doesn't do it justice.
Greg Babcock, Sponsored Content Editor: It would have remained creatively stagnant otherwise.
Thomas Welch, Lead Photographer: It badly needed a fashion hero.