Raf Simons SS23 Looked Beyond the Obvious

Was it rave? Was it punk? Glam rock or twisted youth? Maybe it was all, coming together in his most minimal collection to date.

Fashion 
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Raf Simons has made his London debut. Yes, it might have taken some time for the lauded Belgian designer to finally come to the U.K., following a London Fashion Week SS23 postponement per The Queen’s passing, but fear not: Simons has made up for it, and some.

Taking to the London nightclub institution Printworks, Simons presented both his Spring/Summer 2023 collection and continued the night with a built-in after-party during Frieze, the art fair that Simons is, in fact, a patron of. However, as Mahoro Seward noted in his interview with Simons for the Evening Standard, the show is the party, and vice versa. “Clara 3000 is DJing, there is a bar on one side… And then at one point, we switch on the lights and music, and the focus shifts to the raised bar, where the models walk. The show happens, the waiters come back and the party continues,” Simons told ES.

With party mode in mind, Raf Simons SS23 was a sexy and sensual affair fit for a naughty night at Printworks or, stereotypically, Berghain. “I think it’s actually the barest, most minimal collection I’ve ever done,” the designer added in his ES interview. The atmosphere was quite the opposite, however, with almost 1,000 people crammed into the old newspaper printing factory-turned-nightclub. Guests took to the elevated stage in rows, close enough to see the most intricate of details in Simons’ fabrics. It brought back memories of McQueen’s FW97 collection “It’s a Jungle Out There” which saw punters stand or sit on the floor in a warehouse, conjuring a nostalgic, ravey moment.

The collection itself was one of Simons’ most diverse to date, despite his stripped-back approach. Usually, the designer sticks to a theme — FW22 served sinister nightclub-ready ensembles, SS22 put a schoolboy-ish twist on tailoring and essentials. But SS23? It was a mishmash of rave influences, ’80s punk references, and subverted tailoring all coming together under the ambient lighting of a techno nightclub.

To some, this wasn’t immediately clear — why are we listening to techno in a techno club but witnessing punk cues? Perhaps techno is a punk movement in its own right, going against the grain and often choosing chaotic energy as its main course. But looking deeper into the collection you start to find the references — something that proves Simons is one of the best designers out there to really get you thinking.

Neon hues and skintight leggings across the co-ed collection dabbled with the techno tones, as did hot pants and polka dot prints adorning arms and legs. Likewise, a reappearance of FW22’s runway boots — now coming with brogue-like detailing — welcomed a certain kind of Berghain leather daddy-ness, while the technical and belted playsuits provided a more submissive sense bolstered by some learning from his work at Prada.

This was very apparent throughout, as teeny tiny knitted pieces turned from tops into romper suits, leaning into a preppy era. But, bringing back the underground moments were fishnets (creating over-the-shoulder bags and skimpy tops) and leathers, a material used on dramatically oversized biker jackets for something punk and, at times, glam-rock.

The collection continued to grow in both scale and context, as shorts were pleated on the side to reveal slits filled with contrasting fabrics. Tank tops were cut from thin, raw-edged cotton and buttoned up to once again provide a sense of innocence, while now-signatures like the skeleton cuff or bold use of alpaca wool created dramatic moments of color and more punk undertones.

More ’80s references came through the use of Philippe Vanderberg’s work, who rose to fame in the 1980s. While many of his works were used, it was the c.2005-2008 piece No Title of pastel and charcoal on paper, reading “Station” alongside acronyms that stole the graphic section of the collection — this work adorning a sort of underpinnie-style tank top and loose-fitting shorts. Known for depicting a satirical universe that commented on “the recurring structures of oppression, fundamentalism and one-dimensional thinking,” per Stockmans, works like Let’s Drink The Sea and Dance also graced neck tag-branded tank tops worn on top of a rollneck sweater and short pencil skirts.

Together, Raf Simons’ SS23 collection was about looking beneath the obvious. Was it rave? Raf pushed his own limits for this collection, delivering a highly-wearable body of work that bends his own house cues with twists to tailoring, altering his often perfected image with upturned hems and waistbands, raw edges, scribbled designs, and increasing use of “barely there” moments to deliver one of his sexiest collections to date reminiscent of his early 2000s designs.

Raf Simons’ SS23 runway show can be seen in the gallery above, while more fashion month content — from New York, London, Milan, and Paris — can be found accordingly.

In case you missed it, here are all the best shows of the season.

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