Raf Simons Throws a Rave—and Shows His Most Grown-Up Clothing Yet

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At a South London rave emporium, the designer swapped oversized silhouettes and loud graphics for something a little more restrained.

Raf Simons Throws a Rave—and Shows His Most GrownUp Clothing Yet

Jose A. Bernat Bacete

Raf Simons was supposed to show his Spring/Summer 2023 collection during London Fashion Week back in September, almost certain to be a highlight among the solid schedule of Burberry, Halpern, and SS Daley. But Simons decided to cancel his show following the death of the Queen, and announced that he would instead unveil the collection during the Frieze art fair in October.

“It’s been a dream for a while to show in London—a city where fashion and creativity are omnipresent in the streets, and where I see exceptional people with a strong, unique style,” the Belgian designer, who usually shows in New York City and Paris, said in a brand statement back in July. “I’m extremely excited that this dream is becoming a reality now.” Simons has long had a fascination with Britain, and more specifically its music scene. A peach vest from his Spring/Summer ‘96 collection was screen-printed with David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane album cover, whhile for AW’01 Simons added more Bowie patches, alongside those bearing Manic Street Preachers and Joy Division on sweatshirts. He has also worked with the legendary art director Peter Saville, perhaps best known for creating the identity for Manchester acid house mecca the Haçienda.

Last night, a new club night opened its doors as over 1,000 guests flocked to the Printworks, the sprawling South London venue. The warehouse, a former newspaper printing press, was filled with the deep thud of techno, while strobe lights sliced through the concrete chamber. One question on everyone’s mind, though: where the hell was the show going to take place? Printworks is a vast space, yet there wasn’t a catwalk in sight. Instead, the venue was set up for a rave with a lengthy bar lining one wall. An hour in, the bar was stripped of its polyester sheeting and a catwalk was unveiled. Then the venue was plunged into darkness. The bar was drenched in light and Simons’ show began.

While the setting might have led many to believe that we were in for a swarm of models wearing clubwear, the reality couldn’t have been more different. SS23 was a step away collection from what we’ve previously come to expect from Simons, who, both at his own label and during his tenures at Dior, Jil Sander, and Calvin Klein, has tapped into youth culture like no other designer.

The first of the 64 looks set the tone. It was a teal, tailored romper-cum-short jumpsuit, worn by a model over a spandex-like lilac long-sleeved tee and leggings—a riff on officewear, with just a drizzle of the rave. What appeared to be the first menswear look followed five models later, and comprised neon yellow leggings, big ol’ black stomper boots, an oversized beige jumper, and a structured white leather biker jacket, which was artfully constructed to appear sewn onto a longer car coat. Elsewhere, knitted rompers for adults came in dove grey and camel, while heavy-knit wool blazers were thrown over charcoal leggings and mesh shirts. It was clothing for the adulting professional who isn’t about stuffy suiting, the Simons way. Raver gear? Not here. The only nod to dancing? He embedded prints of the artwork by the late Ghent artist Philippe Vandenberg on T-shirts, which read “Kill them all and dance.” (Disclaimer: he doesn’t want you to actually do this.) 

Simons’ longstanding oversized, boyish silhouettes were notably absent. In their place were nipped waists, jackets that sat hip-height, sleek sleeveless vests worn atop comfort-first knits, tailored blazers that left little room for movement, and straight-cut coats. The punchy logos of collections past were missing, too, replaced by sewn-on labels that simply read “R.Simons” in a chic, italicized scrawl. “I wanted something very stripped-back, very reduced. Not overly styled and overdone,” Simons told Vogue. “I started with the opposite of going out from my own past. It was about dancing, going out together, but I also didn’t really want to fall in the trick of Blitz Kids, or the clichés.” 

Indeed, it was hard not to compare this collection to those of Prada, where Simons has held the title of co-creative director since February 2020. There, his collections with Miuccia Prada have been minimal, fuss-free and, arguably, designed for grown-ups with the cash to spend and who are serious about clothing, rather than pieces for angsty teens returning home after 48-hour benders. At RS, the same adult sophistication was apparent—even if the show felt more like a rave. 

This story originally ran on British GQ with the title “In London, Raf Simons left his comfort zone”

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