Raf Simons Spring Summer 2019

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Basic fashion dynamics: There’s only so far a pendulum can swing before it starts going in the opposite direction. Raf Simons’s late-night show in a warehouse in a Paris suburb might go down in recent history as the moment the backlash against streetwear became an inevitability. Tailoring for men, even for a new generation, is back at the top of the agenda again, and Simons is one of those pushing for a new way of doing it. Why? “We need it! We need a new outline. I know I was part of it myself, but too many hoodies with prints! You know, something needs to shift,” he stressed.

His was a concentrated, direct idea: Make men’s coats and jackets in Paris couture–grade women’s satin, cut them wide, and spike the look with New Wave club references. “I was thinking of Yves Saint Laurent, when he was doing his incredible color combinations,” Simons said. “Everything except the jersey and a couple of menswear suits was made from duchesse satin.” Duchesse needs to be masterfully cut so as not to pucker, bubble, or droop, and as every haute couturier knows, the simpler the cut, the more demanding the skills. Punctuated with lines of wide-spaced silver-chrome bubble studs, Simons’s—in single shots of white, ice blue, emerald, and marigold—looked immaculately made. Perhaps he learned a thing or two about that in his days in the couture ateliers at Christian Dior.

New Wave–y late-’70s/early-’80s taste did go through a neon phase; the fuchsia coat triggered a flash of early Stephen Sprouse and exactly how he brought elevated glamour to the downtown New York club scene at that time. In Simons’s playbook, there always has to be something of a romantic throwback to misspent youth. With him, though, the emotional pull is more toward rough European basement nights—in this case, illustrated with four photographic tokens of punk life in London, printed on flat backpacks and satin T-shirts.

“There are all these references to punk, like the safety pins and studs and black leather, but I was thinking of how to do them in a way that was not that—so you don’t recognize them,” the designer said. That’s where it got interesting. There were glimpses of tiny knots of diamanté jewelry and silver D-rings embedded here and there, suggestive of piercings and fetish. And, wittily, a twisted translation of plastic six-pack holders, made into a version of a punk string vest. “Like when kids hang out, carrying their beers,” as Simons put it. “But also, like Paco Rabanne.”

Dual readings is the mark of interesting fashion. Ultimately, though, with this one, it’s the single message that resonated as new: the surprise of haute couture tailoring taking center stage—and for men.

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