Hazine

23.10.2015 - Estelle Marandon

Designer

The reclusive visionary

RAF SIMONS HAS LITTLE IN COMMON WITH ATTENTION-SEEKING DESIGNER COLLEAGUES LIKE KARL LAGERFELD. THE MODEST BELGIAN PREFERS TO REMAIN IN THE BACKGROUND. BUT, WHETHER HE LIKES IT OR NOT, ASCENDING TO THE CREATIVE DIRECTOR'S THRONE AT DIOR HAS PLACED HIM FIRMLY AMONG THE RANKS OF FASHION’S GREATEST.

Raf who? For a long time, his name was unknown except to those involved in the fashion industry. But, of course, that was before the Belgian designer succeeded John Galliano and took over the creative direction of fashion giant Christian Dior. The reserved designer was already one of the most influential designers of his generation – as the creative mind behind his own label for men, Raf Simons, and later as creative director at Jil Sander. But Simons has never been one to push himself to the fore. In the early years, he did not even venture on to the catwalk at the end of his shows to receive the applause for his collections. Quite simply, Raf Simons has always been reserved. He is not really a fashion designer, after all.

A SELF-TAUGHT DESIGNER WITH A VISION

The 46 year-old grew up in the Belgian province of Neerpelt, which he hoped to escape by studying industrial design and furniture design in Genk. It was only when he undertook an internship with fashion designer Walter Van Beirendonck, for whom he designed fashion showrooms, that he came into contact with the world of fashion and took an immediate liking to it. On the advice of Linda Loppa, the former head of the fashion department at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, he founded his own menswear line in 1995 – without ever having studied fashion. His brand, a blend of classic men's fashion and modern streetwear, was an instant success. And the self-taught Simons was a visionary. In the 90s, his extremely slim-fitting trousers anticipated the fashion of the Noughties. A trend later credited to Hedi Slimane at Dior Homme.

DARLING OF THE FASHION JOURNALISTS

In 2005, Raf Simons was recruited to the post of creative director at Jil Sander and began shuttling back and forth between Antwerp and Milan. For the first time, Simons was responsible for women's fashion, and rose to the challenge masterfully. His simple but modern designs were in perfect harmony with the design house's minimalist approach. During these years, Simons finally became a darling of the fashion journalists. However, although his creations have been highly praised in the press, his collections have reportedly not sold well in stores. In 2012, Jil Sander ended the brand's long-time collaboration with Simons. But Raf Simons had already landed a new job – a few months later, he succeeded John Galliano and has been creative director at one of France's biggest luxury labels – Christian Dior – ever since. This new job finally catapulted him into the ranks of the most important contemporary fashion designers. Making Raf Simons a name that should be familiar to everyone, even those who have nothing to do with fashion.

Short Facts

Trademark

Raf Simons' fashion is often described as intellectual and conceptual, mainly referring to Simons' desire to do more than just follow a simple theme in his collections, and to give an intellectual perspective. He is the originator of several fashion trends, such as skinny trousers for men, which he introduced in the 90s, long before Hedi Slimane gained fame for the same trend at Dior Homme. As creative director at Jil Sander, he was also one of the first designers to use colour blocking on the runway. Overall, he can be considered one of the most important promoters of minimalist fashion.

Distinctiveness

Raf Simons' career is marked by a series of new starts. In 1995 he left the world of furniture and industrial design behind to become a men's fashion designer. As creative director at Jil Sander, he suddenly became responsible for women's fashion overnight. His roles at Christian Dior gave him his first taste of responsibility for haute couture. 

Anecdote

When Raf Simons launched his eponymous brand, he used models cast from Antwerp's streets. He would take a minibus of kids – along with any family members who wanted to go along for the ride – to his Paris show.

Awards

2003 Swiss Textile Award

2014 CFDA International Award

The Dior SS16 runway finale and last show of the visionary designer.

Timeline

1968 - The Provinces

Raf Simons is born on 12 January 1968, in Neerpelt, Belgium. Even at an early age, Simons knows that he wants to choose an artistic profession to escape the provinces.

1991 - Career

In Ghent, he studies furniture design and industrial design, graduating in 1991. It is only through an internship with fashion designer Walter Van Beirendonck that he comes into contact with fashion and finds a liking for it. He considers doing a course of fashion studies, but is encouraged by Linda Loppa, head of the fashion department at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, to start his own brand without training.

1995 - Founding of the Raf Simons brand

His first collection is a great success and is characterised by slim lines and a blend of classic men's fashion and streetwear influences. Thanks to Simons, the skinny silhouette becomes increasingly common for men in the late 90s. In 2005, he brings a secondary line, RAF, to the market.

2005 - Jil Sander

Raf Simons becomes creative director at the label Jil Sander, making women's fashion for the first time. His minimalist and modern designs are highly praised by the press, but reports suggest they are not selling well in stores. In 2012, the company ends collaboration with Simons and makes the company founder, Jil Sander, his successor.

2008 - Collaborations

Raf Simons launches a successful collaboration with the label Fred Perry, which is still ongoing today, and brings out a range of luggage with Eastpack.

2012 - Christian Dior

Raf Simons becomes the creative director of French luxury brand Christian Dior, succeeding John Galliano, who has to leave the house because of anti-Semitic remarks he made in 2011. It is the first time that Raf Simons has to design haute couture. Since his arrival at Dior, Simons has continued to rejuvenate the fashion house with his signature minimalist style, making it one of the most modern couture houses.

2015 – Final Show

After three-and-a-half years at the luxurious French fashion house Christian Dior, Raf Simons presents his last collection for Spring/Summer 2016 during Paris Fashion Week; a fresh and sumptuous collection. The Belgian fashion designer decided it was time for him to focus more on his own work and collection.

Raf Simon's Latest Collections For Dior

  • Christian Dior Haute Couture SS16

  • Christian Dior Haute Couture FW15

  • Christian Dior RE16

  • Christian Dior FW15

  • Christian Dior SS15

  • Christian Dior PF15

Photo:

© Getty Images

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