Anyone familiar with Raf Simons' work will be aware of his iconic "Consumed" collection. Recognized as one of his most radical moments – and one of menswear's most important – the SS03 collection introduced a sinister, post-apocalyptic narrative to men's fashion, exploring ideas of commodification, advertising narratives, and cultural appropriation. Realized in a mostly monochrome palette, the clothes featured intricately layered details and deconstructed elements, while the show's standout pieces came adorned with appropriated corporate logos, ambiguous messages, and bold graphic elements.
The "Consumed" collection was intended as a meditation on modern consumerism. Simons was interested in exploring how brand codes, logos, and corporate language had permeated mainstream culture and society, and how the youth had adapted to it. He also considered the risks of being consumed as we consume.
In the show notes, the brand wrote: “Today’s living environment is about consuming as well as being consumed; some suggest this could lead to an apocalyptic end, while others, particularly younger generations, take this reality as their cue to create new, more viable and flexible personas.”
As Vogue pointed out in their review from 2002, the show was "not a rebuttal to fashion’s 'buy, buy, buy!’ mantra, but a theory of how to do it Simons’ way.” Whether the message is addressed to the audience or to the wearer remains unclear. What was evident, however, was that Simons was watching culture closely from the sidelines.
Words like "membership" and "resisted" were printed on tees alongside takes on the logos for PlayStation 2, Canon, and a “Sun Bank.” Much of this corporate graphic inspiration came via '80s artist Ashley Bickerton, who made collages out of brand logos, and whom the collection was dedicated. Much like Raf’s vision for "Consumed," Bickerton’s artwork offered a sardonic critique of contemporary consumer culture and the commodification of the art object, via steel and aluminum wall-mounted "Culturescapes" from the "Logo" and "Non-Word Word" series.
Following Bickerton’s format of collaged signs, codes, and logos, Raf worked with artist Peter De Potter to pull in other niche and popular culture references, like a photo of Penelope Tree, Truman Capote’s historic Black and White Ball, and Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. As archivist @horrorvacuo pointed out in his description of the piece: "The Penelope Tree print served as a reference to a pivotal point in fashion, youth culture, and high-society America. Tree became the quintessential Swinging Sixties icon, which galvanized female youth culture and movements at the time. She inspired a generation of artists and designers to look at youth culture for inspiration which would go on to solidify the Youthquake movement.”
In these early stages of his career, Simons relished in secrecy as a designer, but his visionary work still had a profound impact on the international fashion press. Cathy Horyn, who wrote for the Times during the late '90s and early 2000s and attended Raf’s shows, was quoted speaking about the designer, saying: "Out of a generation of so-called visionaries, only a few have Mr. Simons’ capacity to deal with the future in a believable way."
Like most pre-internet era collections from emerging designers, there is little to be found online about the collection from the time of the show. Instagram account @yourfashionarchive recently scanned in some pages from now defunct magazine Mr. High Fashion, who shot backstage images at the show and got a quote from an interview with Raf, saying: "I am not trying to criticize or define the consumption environment of modern society. However, all of us are concerned with the consumption phenomenon, I’m looking closely at why everyone is attracted by the logo and brand name."
In retrospect, "Consumed" was wildly prophetic. 17 years later, it's clear Raf’s vision has become an oracle for today's generation of logomania-obsessed youth and the cultural acknowledgement that you are what you consume. Street culture is rooted in appropriation and bootlegging, and Simon’s pop-culture licensing was a prerequisite for the nonstop random brand collisions we see today.
Even Simons himself paid tribute to Jaws once again, during his SS19 Calvin Klein 205W39NYC show. What's more, the market for the label's archive pieces has skyrocketed amongst grail-hunting menswear enthusiasts over the past three years, with special pieces from the "Consumed" show like the white, allover print bomber commanding well over $5,000, while the parachute bomber has been seen for sale as high as $10,000.
There's no telling where menswear will go from here but it's clear we wouldn't have ended up where we are now without his creative genius. Maybe we'll be talking about Raf Simons SS19 17 years from now.