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What Does the Sudden Closure of Raf Simons Mean for Fashion Now?

Vogue logo Vogue 6 days ago Sarah Mower

Quitting the stage at the top of your game is a move that becomes legends well. Few in any sphere—rockstars, politicians, business people, or fashion—ever have the guts to do that. It’s a first thought that reverberates with the very recent memory of seeing Raf Simons dive from his bar-runway into an adulating crowd of fans at his warehouse rave-show in London on October 14.

At the time, standing back, it crossed my mind that he’d pulled off the ultimate Raf-utopia that night. A sort of idealized culmination of all the underground teen-scenes he’d based his brand on since 1995. A euphoric, sociable, relaxed party thrown for all-comers across London’s student and club communities. I’d never seen him look so happy, openly mixing with everyone; watching him encouraging kids eager to tell him about their own ideas.

There was no sign that this really was the ultimate Raf Simons show, his last for his own brand after 27 years. Maybe he felt that there was no way of topping that night? If he’d already calculated that, it was a great way to go out on a high; leave them wanting more.

The emotional outpouring over the loss of such a fashion hero to his original inner-cohort of 1990s followers, now in their fifties and sixties, and the new global generation of cult brand obsessives is being played out all over social media. For comparison, it’s surely the equivalent of the shock- mourning followed by shopping-panic that women went through when Phoebe Philo left Celine.

Backstage at what would turn out to be the last Raf Simons show. © Photo: Jamie Stoker Backstage at what would turn out to be the last Raf Simons show.

Without doubt, the final Raf Simons collection (should it be delivered) will be stripped from stores, and the resale value of anything with his name on it—which has always been high—will have skyrocketed overnight.

But of course Raf hasn’t gone-gone. He is very much center-front at the top of one of the luxury powerhouses of the world, designing women’s and menswear with Miuccia Prada. She’s been quoted as saying he has a contract without end (which almost brings to mind the lifelong arrangement Karl Lagerfeld enjoyed with Fendi.) That sounds like a lot of security, and a lot of work, especially as he shuttles to and fro between Milan and his home in Antwerp. Enough for any one designer who wants to have some semblance of balance in their private life.

But figuring out what might have been the reasons behind his announcing the closure of his brand—whether pressure of work, the darkening economic climate, or a mid-life change of heart—is a complex thing where Raf’s concerned.

His situation sounds most similar to Demna’s at Balenciaga, who also opted to concentrate on his job at a fashion house, while ceasing his association with Vetements, the brand he founded. Maybe the idea that people in fashion should be doing more than one job at a time has finally gone out of fashion.

In Paris, Simons takes a bow at his spring 2022 fashion show. © Photo: Getty Images In Paris, Simons takes a bow at his spring 2022 fashion show.

Some have cited the much earlier departures of the fashion gods Helmut Lang and Martin Margiela as having parallels with Raf. They’re examples of designers whose bodies of work have only ever grown more revered since they stopped—also at the top of their games. The name of Raf Simons will remain sacrosanct, in the same way.

There are differences, though. Lang and Margiela had already sold their brands before they left. Raf Simons was independent. He can wrap it up as he likes, and also unwrap it. Diehard fans remember there was a period when he put his brand on hold before, and then came back.

Maybe he will, maybe not. Or maybe he’ll do something else altogether - a wholly different project which will suit his personal intellectual interests; one which isn’t hampered by the constant, increasingly tough demands of fitting into the notoriously relentless cycle of ready-to-wear seasons, shows, selling to buyers, factory production, deliveries, sales—and repeat. If that’s one of the motivations—the extreme difficulty which faces all independent designers who are locked into the wholesale system—then it would not be surprising at all that he chose this moment to bow out of it.

But perhaps there’s more to it than that. Being ‘relevant’ has always been a touch-stone of authenticity in Raf’s vocabulary—‘relevant‘ to the times, and to the new ways of thinking generated by youth. These days, there are so many more ways than wholesale fashion business to be ‘relevant’ and present in fashion. The young generation, with whom Raf is in touch, are all busy inventing new systems for themselves. Those kinds of conversations were the ones he was having with students and young designers and self-starters in London. Was it inspiring to him to hear the way they talk?

Backstage at the spring 2023 show in London. © Photographed by Jamie Stoker Backstage at the spring 2023 show in London. Another behind-the-scenes view. © Photographed by Jamie Stoker Another behind-the-scenes view.

Then again, after 27 years, there surely comes a point in any artist’s life when everything that can be said on a subject, has been. For Raf, there must be a brave satisfaction in being able to have sole control over drawing the line under his body of work, and sealing it for posterity. The ultimate act of a free designer taking charge of their destiny.

Still, despite the shock which has greeted his announcement, let’s not forget that it’s a move which is quite in character. Because the other thing we know about Raf Simons—and about the unpredictability and speed of events in today’s fashion—is that he’s someone who’s never afraid to make swift, decisive, and unexpected moves. He went from Jil Sander to Christian Dior to Calvin Klein to Prada in the space of eight years.Closing his own brand could be seen, perhaps, as another of the instinct-driven decisions that are characteristic of his fluid mentality towards his career. It’s not for nothing, I think, that he signed off yesterday’s instagram post with ‘ Forward always, Raf.’

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