Out Of The Rabbit Hole(s)

Is Raf Simons’s spring/summer 2021 collection metaphor for finally emerging from this difficult year? Or something else?

There were two openings, in fact. In the 17-minute film-as-runway, the models crawled out as if through a pair of holes-in-fence (or were they the ends of tunnels?). The first, a curly-haired guy, emerged somewhat warily into a yard of sort—carpeted with what could be dried yarrow, the colour of marigold, and with trees stripped of foliage—that all seemed alien to him. He looked around him with the furtiveness of an escapee who was finally freed from a dystopian world—or, more relevantly, one ravaged by a pandemic. He wore a fitted, long-sleeved, turtlenecked top. On the chest, it read: “WELCOME HOME. Children of the Revolution.” We have no idea what Raf Simons meant by “revolution”. These past many months have been revolution-calling months. Or was it “Discord” (another message) in the presence of current social constraints and, sadly, confusion?

That (first) textual beckoning brought to mind T Rex’s 1972 hit, also titled Children of the Revolution, recently “interpreted” by Kesha. And also the 2000 film Billy Elliot—in the scene when the protagonist faced up to his father about learning ballet. But would it be naïve to think that, as the song goes, Mr Simons was saying “you won’t fool the children of the revolution”? The collection was themed “Teenage Dreams”. These were adolescents wearing (or dreaming of) grown-up clothes in a deliberate and individual way, or the only way they know how to wear them. There was nothing insouciant about the looks. Were they, then, revolutionising something? A sartorial hit-back at those straight-laced adults too concerned with political bickering to notice that the young have a clearer thought?

To us, this was classic Raf Simons. His distinctive style was born among the young, not necessarily the street, but certainly where the clearly youthful throng. Home is (for the present) Belgium, and assuming that is where he is hoping his followers will cast their taste and longing, it wouldn’t be immoderate to say that even there, the youths have certain “dreams” and these tone with youths elsewhere, even if the circumstances of others may be more complex. But these youths of Mr Simons’s picking aren’t your garden variety, street-style-bent youngsters whose style god is solely Virgil Abloh; these kids probably understand that Mr Simons has fine-tuned his craft through some of the best ateliers of Europe. However youth-centric his designs are, however street they seem, they are not left bare of that increasingly elusive quality called elegance.

In retail setting, Raf Simons the brand is quite often placed alongside other labels that easily fall into the category, street style. Or with designers and names that cannot be easily catergorised, other than left-field. Is his on-going collaboration with Fred Perry something to do with such an association? An eternal youth? We know by now that Mr Simons’s designs are not so straightforward, laden—usually imperceptibly—with codes drawn from his own youth; the music he listened to, the films that impressed him, and even with appliqués of photographs of the past, such as school year books. But his adapting from the days of yore has never been conspicuous. They are often ever so warped, such as the patterns of swirls in the current collection, used for both men and women, that were reminiscent of Pucci of the ’60s (revolutionary times too, for sure), but didn’t communicate Marisa Berenson frolicking on the beaches of Sardina.

This was supposed to be a womenswear “launch”, as described by some members of the media. But since 2006, when he debuted the Jil Sander women’s collection, Mr Simons has been designing for women. This then could be his first co-ed collection for his own label (he did show women’s with men’s for Calvin Klein). And, despite the binary presentation, the clothes seemed less concerned with gender. The turtlenecks, for example, appeared to be a unifying piece. It is odd to want to have the neck encased in such a manner for spring/summer (in an increasingly warmer world), but the the turtleneck is very much Mr Simons’s favourite top, appearing with some frequency before and at Jil Sander, as well as Calvin Klein. The turtleneck is also in line with the slimmer silhouette of the collection (love: worn with a calf-length pencil skirt). This is not necessarily a strong womenswear line—as opposed to his work for Jil Sander and Dior—but they reveal an exciting aesthetic for the future of womenswear that other luxury brands, save Prada and, to an extent, Louis Vuitton, are not exploring.

Sometimes, we wonder if Mr Simons is still playing the outsider, a fashion breed that’s becoming rarer than ever. His feelings about the fashion system—now forced by the pandemic to change—is not unknown. Is he then urging the impressionable young to take his side? On the clothes, both tops and dresses, were pins that urged the viewer to “Join Us” and to “Question Everything”. But it’s hard to question the seductiveness of sweater-knit vests/T-shirts over sleeveless blazers/jackets, oversized pullovers with slinky dresses (many appealingly wearable), outerwear-as-cape, and those deep, slightly dusty colours. It’s hard to say that, come next spring, Raf Simons imagined the world to be bathed in sunlight and breathing virus-free air, but one thing he seemed clear about: there would be no need to resort to loungewear. Easy need not be the only answer.

Photos and screen grab (top): Raf Simons

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