Non-Binary Finery

In a first season with no bifurcated bottom for even the guys, Raf Simons shows that a collection can be almost genderless

The first thing that catches our attention are the shorts. Or what we think are shorts, but they turn out to be quite different: they are not divide into legs. So these are skirts? Of course, it is increasingly apparently that men are welcoming non-bifurcated bottom and the like into their wardrobes, and Raf Simons seem to be catering to these guys (and those gals for whom pants are as dispensable). In fact, there are no trousers in the co-ed collection (or maybe there is just one?). Both men and women are attired to show off legs—if not entire limbs, definitely calves. Mr Simons, we do not think, is trying to feminise his menswear offering. They still look masculine, even when many of the pieces are mostly associated with womenswear. Yet these are clearly conceived and sized for a masculine body, not necessarily brawn. In fact, is doubtful a muscular fellow would look good in these somewhat vertically-linear clothes.

The skirts, to be sure, are not ‘skorts’. They also not too skirt-like, nothing similar even to, say, a tennis skirt. We are initially stumped because the silhouette of the skirts that are worn, at least on the men, are very similar to walking shorts—nothing micro about them either. Nearly all of them end at the knee. So do the tunic-like one-pieces. Is it appropriate to call them dresses, even after so many celebrities (American mostly, from what we have seen, not counting Harry Styles or Troye Sivan), are wearing them with some regularity now? To be certain, many folks—even Raf Simons customers—would not consider them synonymous with a male wardrobe. The boat neck with cap-sleeves or another, similar, but with a gathered neckline—could these be as all right, if not trendy, as they are for women, on whom the fall of the dresses, whether tunic or trapezoid, are a study in sophisticated simplicity? Or are they now simply more sophisticated on men?

Even the shirts are not spared elongate-to-skirt-lengths. But what’s particularly interesting are those that could have been a business shirt in a former life. From Arrow to allure? But these are not your company accountant’s button-downs, nor even Gordon Gekko’s contrast-collared dress-stripes. They are, for one, definitely larger, as if cut by a patterner who is anti-fit, but unlike, say, the boyfriend shirt, or what Dakota Johnson wore in 2015’s Fifty Shades of Grey, these are not sized for someone else. The collar circumference is not too large and the shoulders do not drop too much, even when the sleeves are longer than the standard up-to-the-centre-back-of-your-hand, with the cuff unbuttoned. They are like hanfu sleeve length, and even come with comparable handfu cuffs: extra wide. Despite the shirts’ business vibe, they are styled to look more blouse/tunic/dress (take your pick), even under sweaters.

This spring/summer 2022 fashion week season sees the ushering in of The Swap, designers taking the place of their designing chum’s to interpret the other brand’s signature looks. Given that there is more than a mere whiff of Prada in the Raf Simons collection, is it possible that Miuccia Prada was given some dresses to design? Surreptitiously? The navy or black A-line one-pieces, with their definite shape, modest lengths, and school-uniform-proper, but not girly styling seem a direct leap out of Ms Prada’s distinctive playbook. That Mr Simons would be influenced by her inspiring co-designer at Prada is hardly surprising. But if there is one thing the world needs right now is less of the similar with the other.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Raf Simons

The Pleasure of Prada

Without black bras, just underwired bra cups hidden under knitted polos

By now, midway through Milan Fashion Week (after New York and then London), we know ‘sexy’ is a big theme. The navel is exposed, the bra is free to breathe. It is, therefore, interesting—to say the least—to see how Prada would interpret the seemingly inescapable post-pandemic (we are being optimistic here) sexy. This is Prada’s first IRL show after Raf Simons joined Miuccia Prada as co-designers last year. But it isn’t a one-city show even when it is a one-city fashion week. What happens in Milan does not stay in Milan. In fact, it is happening elsewhere too—Shanghai, to be exact. Yes, two shows were happening at the same time, for the first time in fashion week history. On both sides, large video screens, set in portrait orientation, revealed what was happening on the other, and how the same outfit on two different woman would look. Prada is Prada, no matter where you are.

Against a soundtrack of the neo-sexy speak-sing (not rap!) Misericord by the Brighton post-rock/ambient duo Insides, comprising Julian Tardo & Kirsty Yates, Prada shows that sexy could be something not seen elsewhere. This is sexy that won’t score on the Met Gala red carpet (or whatever the year’ colour is) and at the Video Music Awards’. Neither will it win any star/celebrities extra pages in magazines dedicated to such stuff. Prada’s premise for sexy is simple: the mini-shirt. But these aren’t your mother’s mini-skirts nor the denim shreds you are used to wearing. These are more tailored, better shaped, cuter. And what is in front is not the same as in the back. There are the short-front-long-backs and the many with a quirky train! Could this be for whoever has the ends to roll the wearer in? A pre-mating ritual? Or just excess, non-functional fabrics waiting to be caught between MRT doors?

As impractical as these misplaced selendangs are, they are the little off-beat touches that often make many followers regard Prada with wonder. We watched the show again. And again. Each time, the lengths of fabric in the rear are not the same. Some appear to be a length of silk fashioned into a skirt, with a centre-back seam, leaving the rest of the fabric tailing; some appear to emerge from the waist, like the 15th century’s narrow aprons shifted to the rear; and some one side of the tail of a flat bow left to float as the wearer strides forward. Amazingly, not one model trips or has the fabric panel caught ungainly between the legs! These are far more appealing (and camp?) than beauty pageant sashes.

And the skirts go with almost anything too. Ms Prada and Mr Simons team them with sweaters, shell tops (with boning to mimic—but not effect—corsets), shirts, leather motorcycle jackets, and oversized car coats with lacing as fastening. The tops, in fact, are especially strong this season. A sure hit: sweater-knit pullovers and polos, with under-wired bras seemingly molded onto the fabric. That’s sexy! The one-pieces are standouts too, particularly the waisted shifts. Appealing are those with square necks and fold-down flaps along the horizontal that are in the shape of Prada’s inverted triangle logo, these days used to ingenious effects. Minimal, Prada is also saying, can be sexy too.

In their third outing as co-designers, Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons proved that two together can design one brand. And that their ideas can come together synergistically to great and desirable effects, allowing the brand’s strength in simple shapes, unexpected details, and off-beat colours to not wane. For the customary end-of-show bow, both designers appear and receive the applause in Milan. Would it not be terrific if two of them can be in the different cities in which the shows were staged?

Screen grab (top) and photos: Prada

Prada’s Rompers For Men

And other arm- and leg-baring pieces for the spring/summer 2022 season

The end of the tunnel is the sea. That’s Prada’s message of positivity during a pandemic, already suggested in this season’s eye-catching pop-ups. Models walked in an angular, red-lacquered, purpose-built passageway that ends in the open air of the sea. Prada calls this the “Tunnel to Joy”. The emotion isn’t so palpable, but you could almost smell the coastal salt. In the first frame of the model stepping outside, the camera pans to the ground and leather slip-ons strike the soft sand. The contrast with the red hard floor prior is immediately discernable. Come out to the outdoor (it is the seaside of Sardinia). Here, you’ll be free. Isn’t freedom the key message of Milan Fashion Week? Even with the radiant reemergence in mind, Prada has resisted the IRL fashion show. Yet, its half city, half seashore presentation isn’t bereft of the energy missed by those who have not been able to attend large-scale physical events. It has retained the sleekness, minimalism, and the vim of Prada shows.

And what do you wear to meet joy? First up, rompers, one of the key products in the likes of The Editor’s Market. For men, Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons bring together shirts and shorts as onesies (top pic), all in what appears to be the shirting fabric of cotton poplin. To be sure, these are not shortened jumpsuits. They have the ease and playfulness of rompers—garments initially associated with children’s clothes. Ensuring that their leisure intention isn’t mistaken, prints are incorporated: ’50s-looking tattoo-illustrations spread randomly across. If you want something more traditionally masculine, there are a couple with bold, vertical, unbalanced stripes. Next, there are the abbreviated ‘skorts’—skirt-meets-shorts combo—that, for any wearer, are half way to donning an actual skirt. But it isn’t immediately clear, while we watched the show on our PC, if what is shown is a skirt over shorts or that the front panel hangs like an apron. Either way, the skirt component isn’t ambiguous.

There is a surprisingly large show of skin—invariably arms and a lot of legs (phew, no midriff! Well, one: he is, after all, going to the beach!). Out of the 39 looks, 33 feature shorts/skorts. We do not remember a Prada Men’s collection that had only six pairs of trousers (in the last spring/summer season—before Mr Simons came onboard—there were no shorts!). That’s just 15 percent of all the bottoms shown. Is that a prediction that men will not be buying longs next year or that they want to look like they’re in primary six all over again? For the past year, the loungewear that many people supposedly adopted is mostly associated with joggers. Even when shorts are ideal at-home wear, it is the trousers worn by runners after a run that have been in the spotlight. As guys slowly move away from the confines of WFH, could it be that shorts would be preferred, as play takes priority over professional pursuits? The potential mass adoption of shorts and the common leg-baring would no doubt bring immense joy to the environment-protection activist Ho Xiang Tian!

A Prada collection is not a Prada collection without the quirky pieces—even more, with Raf Simons in the picture. Items you would not find in an average bloke’s wardrobe: knitted mock-turtleneck bibs, square-neck tank tops, blousey sleeveless boat-neck tops, and floral hoodies. But perhaps most desirable are the accessories, in particular the head wear. The bucket hats will likely be the most trendy and trending. This season, they come with a longer triangular brim in the rear, like a bobby’s custodian helmet, worn front-to-back—and the chin straps too. Some of them have a usable triangular (coin?) pouch above that brim extension in the back (longer to shield the neck from the sun?), while others have slots in the sides to welcome the arms of sunglasses so that the eye wear may perch right on top of the head wear. Looks like, next summer, limps can go quite bare, but not heads!

Photos: Prada

Teen No More

Is Raf Simons finally inspired by maturity?

Morse code signals of Kraftwerk’s Radio-Activity (or Radio-Aktivität), released in 1975, could have been a delightful hint of what the Raf Simons autumn/winter 2021 co-ed show might look like. But Mr Simons is never unsubtle. And definitely none of the retro-futuristic exuberance for him. Perhaps we were just thrilled to hear the familiar melody of what could be a remix of the remastered title track of the German composers’ first all-electronic album. When the show began, we saw a model emerge from a pentagonal tunnel, lit by running fluorescent lights. Our thinking was in overdrive. When the models walked into the movie-set-like Barenzaal, a power-plant-turn-event-space, we were certain we had thought too much. This was not going to be a collection inspired by The Looking Glass War.

The catchy electro-pop minimalism of Radio-Activity, perhaps, threw us off. We couldn’t really imagine Raf Simons set against Kraftwerk. (But who else could we have thought, Tate McRae?!) In 2015, an article in the Financial Times, enthused that “it is difficult to think of a band less inclined to noodle—and yet there’s also warmth and humour in their music”. Perhaps the same can be said of the clearly-intoned designs of Mr Simons, even when we couldn’t join the dots between the designer and the music. It is not the warmth of his tenure at Dior and not quite the humour of, say, Moschino, but there is—we did sense it—something warm and humorous. In fact, the oversized shapes that Mr Simons has been offering for a while now sometimes felt like a big joke, and you either get it or don’t. We do know, for sure, one person who does: Miuccia Prada.

The show is set in a former mine building, now known as C-Mine, in the former mining town of Genk, in the Limburg region of Belgium. Millennials of the party gen before COVID-19 might recognise in C-Mine, the building St James Powerhouse in HarborFront. The Barenzaal’s bunker-like industrial site somehow made us think that the Amphibian Man (The Shape of Water) might appear, rather than Mr Simons’s gorgeous, supple shapes. What struck us was a palpable omission of obvious youth, “solar” or not. These clothes seemed less gleaned from campuses than camps, or more specifically, the groups favouring the less conventional without looking, when dressed, like arrivistes embracing fashion for the first time, or for social-climbing attention.

People do grow up, so do fashion. Mr Simons said in the accompanying notes to the collection—“I don’t want to show clothes, I want to show my attitude, my past, present and future. I use memories and future visions and try to place them in todays world.” Unencumbered by the heritage or archive of a heritage-house-as-employer, Mr Simons was able to just hit the right notes, as he went on with not just marching to his own drum beat, but by striking the drum too. This collection had all the hallmarks of shapes and details that fans love, whether for his own house or when he was designing for another. If you were sold to the intriguing volumes, they’re all still here, this time in a near-cocoon that might be associated with the business tagged haute. This was “attitude” that, despite being forward-looking, had the sense of the palpable present: comfortable and assuring.

Mr Simons is not only a shape-meister, he’s also a texture ace, creating knits with the surface effect of stretched kueh ambon or forming the diamond-quilts on the coats (with voluminous rear) that could be a remake the 127-year-old British brand Barbour might just need. And there were the colours, too—chromatic pairing that only Mr Simons would attempt. Few could pair brights to black the way he could: always with such electrifying effect, even when the shades were closer to pastels. Who’d think of teaming candy pink with highlighter yellow? And there are the accessories: one skeletal wrist arm-cuff got us wondering. Was this Mr Simons offering the equivalent of the skull? Humour?! And what about those new R. Simons labels that appears even on knitted gloves? Is the brand embracing commercialism? Or, had his experience with the Prada triangle brought something out in him that we know not much of?

This was Mr Simons’s second women’s collection. It’s hard to link anything here to the past, Jil Sander or Dior, although some of the shirts did bring to mind Calvin Klein. Despite the clearly feminine leaning at Dior, Raf Simons is rarely associated with profound femininity and high-octane glamour. Yet, he has a clear sense of what makes striking womenswear that’s sensational, and, at the same time, uncontrived and unforced. We are partial to the tunics and tunic-dresses, so consistent with styles that are knowing and confident. At Jil Sander, one fashion critic once said that Mr Simons was not able to cut the pants well. This season, the trousers looked masterfully executed—with just the slouch that today’s ‘relaxed’ calls for without the too-easy hang-loose of sweat pants. The mood of the moment was truly well, and enticingly, captured.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Raf Simons

At Prada, Paillettes Peek From Under Fur

The co-designers surprise and delight, making Prada possibly the best show of the Milan season

Prada, whatever (or, after all that) is said about it; however women reportedly do not appreciate their often boxy shapes, is still able to surprise, and perhaps, more importantly, delight. Heaven knows some of us need surprising and delighting. With Raf Simons onboard and together with Miuccia Prada, the partnership is proven to be formidable. The consensus is still out if the collections thus far—just three—are more Mr Simons or more Ms Prada, or if there is equal input from both sides. What Pradaness is, as a result, was poser of the last womenswear collection. Now we could also ask, what is Rafness? It is not an easy question to answer, even when we could clearly see Mr Simons’s deft hands in the designs. But does it matter if there is visible or palpable parity? This is a one plus one that equals much, much more.

Hints of what was to come in the womenswear were already there in the men’s January show. One particular item stands out: the jacquard knit. How a simple idea can be worked into so many aspects of the garments feeds the imagination and gives pleasure to the senses. In less deft hands, the knits—expanding beyond the long johns of the men’s collection—could have been deemed laughable cheesiness. But both designers have the ability to turn even the most banal (the more the merrier?) into elements that lend themselves easily to both elegance and quirkiness. The jacquard knits sport Prada’s love for off-beat patterns and equally unexpected colours. We love how they appear not just as individual garments and accessories and hosiery, but as details, such as collars, bodices, and lining. If one can have a spot of colour for interest, one can have the same with patterns too.

And that is why we always derive much pleasure and joy from a Prada show (this time in a Rem Koolhaas-designed confines that are almost identical to the men’s). Convention is not key to their presentation. Although this is not an IRL staging, it isn’t short on the energy that pre-pandemic shows projected. The models walk into rooms and the cameras trail them, allowing us to catch the details of the garments, or follow them, a la Tsai Ming-liang’s (蔡明亮) camerawork, from behind, like the model before. We can see the details paid to the back of the clothes, such as the inverted triangle—now without the Prada font—fashioned out of said jacquard knits. In such pursuit, we also see the models disappear into a dark ante-room, which we were later allowed in, where they, under strobe lights, went about what they do off-stage, as if unaware of the presence of a filming camera. They could move in the clothes!

It is hard to say where one might wear these clothes to. How do we categorise them? It is easy to say that those sequinned dresses could be for a party, but how many bashes or shindigs do we foresee even in the near future? It is said people want to have fun with fashion again and to dress up (lounge wear fatigue?), but Prada showed bodysuits, which seem the more fetching alternative to sweats. It is appreciable that regardless of how changed our shopping habits now are, Prada has kept the fashion aspects of the collection elevated, a mission that hasn’t waned since the birth of their women’s RTW in 1989. That the eyes can see things and pairings not witness before attest to Prada’s unrelenting commitment to not only innovation and creativity, but, ultimately, design. With Mr Simons onboard, it can get only more inspiring and the increasingly undervalued quality, exciting.

This collection isn’t for everyone—Prada has never tried to cater to every taste. Even their power suits that opened the show, worn with the sleeves pushed up as if the wearers are to embark on something laborious or, hopefully not, a fight, have a whiff of going against the power structures of fashion-consuming society or the increasingly constricted ideas of what is feminine style. We like that dresses can be worn with the (additional) ease of a pullover—the jacquard necklines and bodices see to that. Or that fur, although fake, need not look like cast-offs of wealthy women who amassed them in the ’70s and ’80s, or like they may incur the wrath of PETA. This is a collection that one either understands or does not. It isn’t conceived with the designers’ friends in mind. This has, to a degree, intellectual heft, but not without a sense of humour, and clearly not without a sense of fun.

Ultimately, Prada allows us to have taste, at a time when taste has become generic, social-media sensation, or, worse, “fashion girl-approved”. Or, to make us feel that it’s okay to like clothes that are not birthed from conventional thinking, or strictly from algorithms or sales data. That it’s really fine to align ourselves with a brand that is not under the grips of the past or the cromulent, to borrow from the world of The Simpsons. An SOTD reader, usually an admirer of more attention-grabbing or meretricious styles, texted us to say, “I even like Prada.” That can only be wonderful.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Prada

Raf Prada!

Has Miuccia Prada become more hands off sooner than we think? Or is Raf Simons merely asserting himself? Would this turn out be the best menswear collection of the Milan season?

If you love Prada and you love Raf Simons, you would love this collection. If you love Raf Simons more, this would totally grab you by the collar. The world was deeply curious when Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons as co-designers was announced in February 2020: How would the “balance of power” work out? These two designers do have distinct voices. Will they harmonise? The answer came in the form of the spring/summer 2021 women’s collection shown last September. It was as much Prada as it was Raf Simons—the best of both worlds, some say. But, with the pair’s first men’s collection for autumn/winter 2021, Mr Simons seems to hold sway. It was all rather familiar. Those of us who have been following the work of Mr Simons will recognise many of his touches. But more importantly, it’s how everything comes together, including Prada’s unmissable inverted triangle (now more symbolic that the straight-on enamelled logo)—there’s no mistaking Mr Simons has a strong hand in all of it.

Called Possible Feelings, the possibilities can indeed be felt. This is not a collection (or the thinking behind it) circumscribed by the four walls of your home because you are WTF. It isn’t a deliberate and conscious reaction against what is considered far from normal, which, as we know, is being redefined. Possible Feelings are what you, the individual, feel, and people do not feel alike. This open-to-interpretation approach is also reflected in the Rem Koolhaas/Amo-designed set. Although presented as a ‘show’, it isn’t on a regular runway, as the entire Milan Fashion Week is an online affair. We see the models walk into rooms, sans audience. Prada calls them a “non-space”. But they are physical confines, even if empty. Each with surfaces differently coloured and textured. Could they be separate realms? How do we possibly feel? Raf! The faux fur walls! Did they not appear in Mr Simons’s website History of my World?

It all starts with a sort of base garment: a knitted, patterned body stocking of sort, be it a top, a legging (the media calls it “long johns”), or both. Against the hard and grinding sounds of Plastikman’s soundtrack, the models appear in silhouettes that are generally lean. Raf! (We’re not getting into the argument of who did skinny first although we know.) The patterns recall Prada’s notorious but welcome “ugly” geometric shapes, in the colours of ’60s wallpaper. But these were not restricted to the close-to-the-body wear; they are in the form of cardigans (or all-knit cardi-suits!), coats, and, in what appears to be the lining of outers. Sometimes underneath all these is a turtleneck pullover. Raf! The slightly oversized sweaters, bombers, coats (those lapel-less pea coats!), shaped longer than the standard issue, contrast appealing with the lean separates worn underneath. Raf!

If you look at the pieces individually, you can’t really describe them as out there. Even with the addition of a co-designer, Prada keeps to the merchandising approach characteristic of the brand. Make a great coat, for example, with perfect proportions, of a familiarity that even non-fashion guys can accept, only make it in a blistering yellow or the softest of pink so that fashion folks cannot resist. Also Raf! There seems to be a push for textures, and the pairing with the smooth. A Prada collection is incomplete without nylon, and here, it goes with boldly patterned jacquard knits. There are also the matte turtle-necks and just-as-shine-free slim pants teamed with slouchy bombers with a soft sheen—almost lurid (the purple in particular). Prada calls these “sensory stimulation”. Given how our surroundings have been last year and would be the year ahead, such a stimulus is very much welcomed.

But it isn’t just the individual pieces that come together to show a Prada that’s delightfully not quite the same as it was before. The styling, too, speaks of the newer half of the designing duo. The models are thinner than ever (“all new models,” as The New York Times reported Mr Simons saying in a dialogue with Ms Prada). There’s the bowl cut of the hair—a reference to the Mods, although sartorially, the total is not quite the ’60s and there is no rebellion against the austerity of a previous generation. Raf! Or, could this be Prada’s style-aware otaku tribe, as opposed to the dandies seen elsewhere, such as at Fendi? Some of the guys walk awkwardly, some dance. They’re in their own world, kitted in their own vision of what is fashion in a world when fashion should not matter, at least not to the extent it deserves something as inane as Zoom meeting wear.

“Fashion became pop,” Mr Simons said in that dialogue, “and the winners now are the ones that scream hardest, not the ones that speak most intelligently.” Was that a prediction that having a vestige of intelligence in speaking, or communicating a design language or aesthetic, as is (always) evident in Prada, may result in not winning? Even when it was reported that Prada has been doing well, especially in Asia? It is unthinkable of a debut Raf Simons collection that does not emerge from speaking intelligently. Although Prada’s newest collection does not scream, it is audible in its tactile sumptuousness, pattern-strong pep, and off-beat pairings. How Raf.

Screengrab (top) and photos: Prada

History Of His World

Raf Simons has a new, ”curated” website. And we get to see what makes this man ticks

Raf Simons is a designer with a distinct point of view, not to mention, an unmistakable voice. He’s now opened up to his fans, so to speak, and we get to have a peek into his ‘world’—actually, soon, likely universe. His new website, History of My World, is, according to its own description, “distinct from the Raf Simons brand, this new multidisciplinary platform offers a curation of pieces selected by Raf Simons which reflect the designer’s point of view, aesthetic and philosophy.” Those who follow Mr Simons’s career will know that History of My World was the title of the 10th anniversary collection of his eponymous label, shown in 2005. As such, “the website proposes a unique and direct echo of Raf Simons, a personal and intimate window into a thought process, onto a world.”

Launched today, it opens with a trio of photographs that recall the last Raf Simons collection: spring/summer 2021, which includes womenswear. The models are not standing. They are all on the ground: one seated and huddled like the Little Match Girl, one asleep like a vagrant albeit a fashionable one, and the last, body tilted back and supported by both hands—a pose that suggests waiting during a fitting. All three, apart from wearing Raf Simons, also have with them the new Raf Simons-designed blankets. These, as we shall soon see, are not those one might use in place of the duvet. That Raf Simons would put blanket out to sell is as expected as Prada moving bathmats. Yet, they are here, not one, but 45 of them.

As you can imagine, these are no ordinary blankets, and not quilts made by a bevy of grandmothers needing something to do during lockdown (no disrespect to Lee Suet Fern’s favourite craft). These wool, handmade-in-Antwerp blankets, with edges left raw, are an extension of Mr Simons’s predilection for applying scrapbooking montages on his clothes. These include photos that appear to be picked from school yearbooks and other memorabilia, such as pins. They don’t come cheap: the least expensive is priced at €1,650. And the dearest is €2,200. As we write this, 17 of them are sold out. It is not certain if there are only one of each available, but at these prices, they would reasonably be limited in quantity. And it is unlikely that anyone would take these blankets to go to bed with. They’d be used as an outer, draped over the body like a cape. Or—don’t be surprised—hung on walls, like tapestries.

Apart from the blankets, there are three products released so far. There are “apothecary candles” that come in sets of four (€450), all shaped like those brown bottles that you might find in an old dispensary. Made in Belgium, these candles are unscented. Two sets (there are six)—one the colour of rhodonite and the other, the shade of jade—are sold out. Then there are the books. Three of them, all pricey: Isolated Heroes (€950), Raf Simons: Redux (the commemorative book that went with the 10th anniversary of the brand, €950), and the cheapest tome, Woe Onto Those (€450). Style of My World appears to be in the early stages of development. Presently, there’s not much content, and there are too few products. But it appears destined to be an online stop for those looking for unique, Raf Simons-curated gifts. High prices? We don’t think these shoppers care.

Screen grabs: historyofmyworld.com

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

The Clutch

No, we don’t mean the handbag; we’re referring to the way Raf Simons likes his models to hold on to the lapels of their coats, as if buttons don’t exist

From left: Prada spring/summer 2021 (photo: Prada), Jil Sander autumn/winter 2012 (photo: gorunway.com), Christian Dior Couture autumn/winter 2015 (photo: indigitalimages.com)

The way to secure a coat, it seems, is to clutch it. At the opening, just about where your solar plexus is. Ignore the buttons or the zip, or the Velcro. If they are there, they’re decorative details. Hold on to the opening in the form of a grab, but not as if for dear life. Designers like to say that there is a way to tie a sash so that the wearer looks chic. The same goes for your palm-as-fastener. You don’t grip as if to choke (nothing so violent), not even to clench (nothing so threatening). This is not prelude to some Masonic handshake. You curl your fingers to gently hold some fabric, the bend of your arm as if ready for a pet cat tired from walking. Or, at least that is how we think Raf Simons wants us to secure the opening of coats.

For his debut Prada collection that was co-designed with Miuccia Prada, Mr Simons (and Ms Prada) sent out models holding their coats in the said manner. It did not even require the sharp-eyed to see that this is a recognisable Raf Simons gesture. We were transported back to early 2012, at the autumn/winter swan song of his collection for Jil Sander. Those pastel double-faced wool coats, held as if the wearers had just emerged from a shower, clutching the ends of the towel close. We didn’t think much of that. Then came July of 2015, when Mr Simons, then steering Dior, had models do the same with the autumn/winter couture outerwear. Still, it would have been presumptive to consider that signature.

Of the four seasons Mr Simons showed at Calvin Klein, no model—not even one—ever held the opening of either coat or jacket together with one hand, and close to the chest. Many things happened during Mr Simon’s tenure at CK, but coats were left to their respective fastening to do their job. Then came his opening act for Prada a week or so ago. That clutch again. We did not forget. But now we are seeing a pattern. Clearly repetition can be discerned (thrice is enough to qualify), and, while Ms Prada herself had taken the end-of-show bow with hands similarly placed, she had not sent models down the runway doing so. This had to be Mr Simons’s doing. A gestural flourish. He was making a mark—his mark. As with everything these days, will it become a meme?

Winning Doubles

As it is always said, two heads are better than one, and no two better together than Raf Simons and Miuccia Prada

He delivered. She delivered. They delivered. Love children don’t always look good, but these do. If there was an alignment in the stars over Milan that day, it happened there and then. Prada’s spring/summer 2021 collection was everything we had hoped for and more. Something just clicked. It could be the synergy, but we think there could be more than that. Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons are potent design forces on their own, but when they came together, something sparked. And we wanted the flames. We wanted to be burned.

The show, filmed in what appeared to be a studio, was stripped of the conceptual sets that used to give Prada collections context. This time, it was just yellow (lemon, canary, fall gingko leaves… take your pick) curtains for the background, a similarly coloured pillar and floor, creating a patina of sunshine and optimism. There were camera rigs grouped in five (above each camera a flat screen) and mounted on a frame suspended from the ceiling. The set-up spoke of function and straight-to-the-point. The models catwalked and engaged the camera. If this is the future of digital fashion weeks, we really welcome it.

The clothes in this utilitarian space shone as if in grander confines—such as a couture salon? Indeed, if couture were to go this casual and sportif, this would be it. In just one viewing, it was hard—and unfair—to confine these clothes to a category. To be sure, they were supremely elegant, but they were, at the same time, somewhat fringe-y. To be sure, Prada has never been vanilla elegant. Its designs often incorporate elements that are not circumscribed by posh surroundings. The work of Mr Simons has been described as “street”. And perhaps this was his contribution to the partnership, in addition to the more linear silhouettes that he is known for, as well as his unique way with graphics and their non-centralised placements.

Since the announcement last February that Mr Simons will join Ms Prada as co-creative directors with—what the press loved to underscore—“equal responsibilities for creative input and decision-making”, we have been burning with curiosity. We know what Ms Prada can do, but we’re more interested in what Mr Simons could bring to yet another brand not his own. Is a European label more suited to his artistic temperament and aesthetical leaning? At Calvin Klein, we weren’t sure we witnessed virtuoso output. Will Prada draw out the best of him, as Dior did?

The Raf Simons touch was immediately evident in the very first look. Or, should we say clutch? Some sort of a top was worn and hand-held in the front, like a stole. It was as if the wearer, in a haste, had no time to put it on properly, and to secure it, had to clutch it close to her heart. It was rather intriguing since it had nothing to do with ensuring modesty. Later, coats too were sort of shrugged on and clutched at the lapels—as if for dear life (possibly appropriate in 2020!), a gesture Miuccia Prada herself had adopted. It too was evocative of what Mr Simons had the models do for Jil Sander in 2012, his last showing for which he received a standing ovation. Then came those full skirts, those pajamas-like tunics-and-pants, and those once-“ugly” prints, and we were jolted back into a world that can’t not be Prada.

What is more recognisable than the Prada triangle? Increasingly taking a more prominent position on the clothes, the logo, this time, was larger than any we remember. Surprisingly, we didn’t dislike the current Prada triangolo use as we did before. Now in fabric, and enlarged, and fastened like a codpiece for the cleavage, the Prada triangle was like an ancient Chinese xiang nang (香囊 or small fragrance satchel)—more exquisite than the unbearable monograms flooding the luxury market now.

That this Prada show was going to be the show of the season, we had no doubt. That this turned out to be infinitely pleasing, we were delighted. Clutching our T-shirt, we were happy to return to fashion again.

Photos: Prada

DSM Gives Back

A fashion retailer that cares is a fashion retailer that wins

 

DSM IG announcement Jul 2020

Dover Street Market has announced an initiative that applies to the country/city where it has a physical store. Buy a T-shirt from the “Fearless” collection, and “100% of its proceeds go to charities supporting healthcare workers in each of the six DSM regions”. Here, what you pay for will instead go to Beyond Social Services, described on their website as “a charity dedicated to helping children and youths from less privileged backgrounds break away from the poverty cycle”. Enjoying fashion and serving a good cause feel right (and good?) now.

Fearless involves some of the biggest names in luxury fashion, as well as streetwear, twenty eight of them that DSM considers as “friends”. And the store is well-supported. To look out for are Raf Simons, Sacai, Undercover, and Valentino, and, for streetwear junkies, Awake NY, Bianca Chandon, Clot, just to name three. The objective is as simple as it is charitable: “…to create a simple collection of T-shirts that help to spread positive energy through the wider DSM global community and out into the world,” according to DSM.

DSM tees Jul 2020

Fearless comes hot on the heels of the Social Justice Charity Capsule, conceived by the sub-brand CDG to support the Black Lives Matter movement. What were first designed as uniforms for staff to wear to welcome shoppers back to the store after lockdown have become available for sale, presumably due to the intense interest from customers. The positive messages on the garments along the lines of “Believe in a better tomorrow” sync with the present global sentiment that calls for massive social change.

Prices of the T-shirts are not yet available as we hit the publish button. It is hard to make a guess as DSM does carry tees of a rather wide price range. We suspect they will retail for SGD100 upwards. This may not be considered outrageous since many are from trending brands. We are certain Doublet’s design of a heart shape, composed of Post-It notes with handwritten messages on them will be first to be snapped up. The Fearless Initiative launches tomorrow at DSMS, as well as online. Shop and do some good.

Photos: (main and products) DSM. Collage: Just So

Two Distinctive Voices To Speak As One

Clearly, what Calvin Klein can’t appreciate, Prada can. What sweet sounds will Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons produce?

 

20-02-23-20-57-33-057_deco

Prada has announced what might be the most powerful pairing in fashion today. And unexpected, too. Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons will be jointly designing the Prada collections from spring/summer 2021 onwards. Two strong voices—not entirely dissimilar yet so unalike—co-designing as a working arrangement is not groundbreaking. There are designing couples such as Luke and Lucie Meier (Jil Sander) ; Christophe Lemaire and Sarah Linh Tran (Lemaire); Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler; and, on our own soil, Yong Siyuan and Jessica Lee (Nuboaix). But Ms Prada is not married to Mr Simons. What bedfellows would they make?

Prada has been the singular vision of one clear-sighted woman. As a designer, Ms Prada always follows her (march to, a physical move, is at odds with her persona) own drum beat, which in itself is often not any beat at all, or anything toe-tapping (popular), or mensural. Ms Prada, who was well ahead of everyone in the ‘ugly’ movement, sees what many other createurs do not. Or, refuse to? She has paid the price for not catching up. Even in sneaker collaborations, she was many moons late. While still critically lauded, Prada isn’t drawing the crowds like they used to. When was the last time you saw a line outside a Prada store? That’s not to say the brand isn’t still compelling. It just means that there is space and merchandise for true fans.

The Belgian has, of course, worked with the Italian before. Well, sort of and briefly. Between 2005 and 2012, Mr Simons was the creative director of Jil Sander. At that time of his appointment, Jil Sander was owned by the Prada Group. It was acquired by the London-based Change Capital Partners in 2006 and then, two years later, sold to Japan’s Onward Holdings (also owner of Rochas, Chalayan, Woo Young Mi, and others) via its European subsidiary Gibo Co (also a manufacturer for brands such as Marc Jacobs, John Galliano, Michael Kors, and others). It was reported that Ms Prada’s husband Patrizio Bertelli was first to approach Mr Simons in 2005 with a job offer at Jil Sander, and he proposed again when Mr Simons left Calvin Klein.

PQ Feb 2020

Before anyone could peddle succession theories, Ms Prada was fast to illuminate to the media that she intends to continue designing. At the same time, Mr Simons is said to be offered a “lifetime” contract. If true, he’d be the only designer after Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel to enjoy such an uncommon pact. But Mr Lagerfeld had free reign to do as he pleases while Mr Simons would have to co-create. This, however, could also reflect Mr Simons’s known disdain for the fashion system and the musical chairs that have been played at luxury houses. In what BOF described as a “secretive conference for select press”, Mr Simons was quoted saying, ““Miuccia and I had a conversation about creativity in today’s fashion system. And it brought me to open dialogue with many designers, not just Mrs Prada. We have to re-look at how creativity can evolve in today’s fashion system.”

Two-as-one the solution? But, how will the two “co-design?” How does a duo with very different minds share “equal responsibilities for creative input and decision-making”, as stated in the official Prada statement on the pairing? It may work, but to what degree of success? Ms Prada may have introduced some of the most influential looks of the past 31 years, but in the recent, have not exactly matched the aesthetical punch seen (and felt) at other houses. Mr Simons was able to make his mark at Jil Sander and Dior—marvelously, it should be added—but his tenure at Calvin Klein, which closer mirrored his own visual and cultural obsessions, could hint at the importance of chemistry and affinity with a brand.

That’s not to say there’s no tacit understanding and mutual appreciation between the two designers. It has, in fact, been reported that more than being one-time employer and employee, both are friends. But creative temperament has a strange way of coming between people or hamper the creative process itself. When one’s vision is more compelling and relevant than the other’s, how will they square? This is the first time Prada has enlisted an outsider to share the creative reign. If you recall, when Donatella Versace tapped talents from outside her own studio for Versus (conceived by Gianni Versace as a “gift” to his sister), it didn’t last. Christopher Kane (2009—2012), JW Anderson (2013—2014), and Anthony Vaccarello (2014—2016) were, at best, guest designers. None was able to put the shine back to the faded glory that was Versus.

Some speculated that it was probably hard to work with women designers who have very specific tastes and are possibly inflexible when it comes to aesthetical/creative differences. In that respect, could it be even harder to shape the will of Ms Prada, she who started the brand’s ready-to-wear line in 1989, and knows it only too well? As one fashion observer said to SOTD, “Miuccia has a certain level of ‘trend’ (practically her own), a certain amount of novelty and definitely change for each season. Those things are not Raf”. Who will come up tops? We look forward to Milan Fashion Week, come September.

Photo: (top) cameramoda.it