LONDON — Belgian fashion designer Raf Simons revealed Monday on Instagram that he is shutting down his own label after “an extraordinary 27-year journey.”
The spring 2023 show staged during Frieze London last month will be the designer’s last collection for his own brand.
“I lack the words to share how proud I am of all that we have achieved. I am grateful for the incredible support from my team, from my collaborators, from the press and buyers, from my friends and family, and from our devoted fans and loyal followers. Thank you all, for believing in our vision and for believing in me,” the designer said.
Simons launched his namesake label in 1995. The designer kept growing his brand while working for major fashion houses including Jil Sander, Dior and Calvin Klein.
Pieces from Simons’ early years often fetch high prices on resale sites and during auctions. In 2020, he reissued some 100 pieces of his signature designs throughout the years, including the high-profile collaboration with Sterling Ruby.
Andrew Groves, director of the menswear archive at the University of Westminster, said the moment he heard the news, he immediately thought of the film “Control,” which is about the life of Ian Curtis, the singer of the late-1970s English post-punk band Joy Division.
“Not only is Joy Division so entwined with Simons’ work, but this final move by Simons is surely about control. It has, after all, been what has driven his career over the last 27 years, it is in his approach to design, presentation, and communication,” Groves said.
“His work for me has always embodied the turbulent emotions of adolescence, bubbling just beneath the surface yet always just under control. When other designers have left their namesake brands, such as Helmut Lang and Martin Margiela, these have continued to greater or lesser success, and I can understand Simons’ desire for his brand not to suffer the same fate,” he added.
Groves also suspects that there will be a second act. “Similar to how New Order emerged from the demise of Joy Division, I’m hoping this is merely a prelude to something else, something unusual and surprising,” he said.
Simons will continue to work at Prada, where he was named co-creative director of the brand in February 2020, working in partnership with Miuccia Prada “with equal responsibilities for creative input and decision making,” the company said at the time. The first codesigned collection was unveiled digitally for spring 2021 during Milan Fashion Week.
The recruitment of Simons suggested that Prada and Patrizio Bertelli, co-chief executive officer of the Prada Group, were readying a succession plan at the Italian fashion house. However, asked if she was eyeing retirement at some point, the designer brushed off the suggestion.
Prada has described Simons’ contract with the house as “in theory, it’s forever.”
It is understood that Prada is increasingly focused on Miu Miu, although not to the detriment of Prada. She is still involved in the design of both labels.
The designers’ partnership underlines the strong complicity between Simons and the Prada Group, which originally tapped him to become creative director of Jil Sander in 2005 when the group owned that brand.
Simons and Prada have also enjoyed a long friendship.
They share a similar aesthetic hinged on modernism and occasionally futurism. They also share a passion for contemporary art and carry a torch for daring creative expression, and occasional provocation.
For his own spring 2023 collection, which was postponed from London Fashion Week to Frieze due to the national mourning for Queen Elizabeth II, Simons invited more than 1,000 guests. They gathered at Printworks, the cult party venue in Canada Water, southeast London, where Simons conjured a Berghain-style moment.
Guests gathered in the vast, cavernous venue around long black bars and drank beer and cocktails out of paper cups. Just before the show began, those bars were transformed into one long runway.
The designer’s obsession with mega-shoulders and big proportions appears to be over. Instead, there were lots of clean lines, minimal tailored jackets, and skirts paired with bright leggings in primary colors. A lineup of romper suits was made from fine-gauge knits, as light as lingerie, or breezy cotton.
Fans, though, would still have recognized spring 2023 as a Raf Simons show, albeit a more stripped-down version.
Models strode down the elevated bar-cum-catwalk in sleeveless coats in bright red or pale blue; classic double-breasted coats that Simons does every season; fishnet T-shirts, and cotton dresses and sleeveless tops with graffiti artwork, the fruit of a collaboration with the estate of the late Belgian painter Philippe Vandenberg.
Born in remote Neerpelt, Belgium, Simons moved to Genk and obtained a degree in industrial and furniture design in 1991. Drawn to the energy of the Antwerp Six, who put Belgium on the international fashion map, he segued from furniture into fashion and launched a street-inspired collection of menswear in 1995.
He started showing it in Paris two years later, and quickly caused a sensation with his skinny tailoring, street casting, and such imposing runway venues as La Grande Arche de la Défense.
A darling of critics and editors, prized for his exacting silhouettes and obsession with the here and now, Simons took up the creative director role at Jil Sander in 2005, where his designs were a critical success but not always commercially. In 2012, he was tapped to succeed John Galliano as Dior’s sixth couturier after the British designer’s antisemitic comments and subsequent downfall. Simons brought a gust of modernity to the house, sweeping aside the retro-tinged glamour Galliano had plied over a stellar 15-year tenure. He frequently referenced iconic Dior designs like the Bar jacket, as well as floral motifs — but abstracted them and indulged his predilection for minimalism and futurism.
After leaving Dior in 2015, Simons joined Calvin Klein a year later and served as chief creative officer there for three years. He left the fashion brand in December 2018 after tension grew between him and PVH Corp., Calvin Klein’s parent company.
At the time, Emanuel Chirico, chairman and CEO of PVH Corp said, in rather blunt terms on the company’s earnings call, that the reimagined Calvin Klein — under Simons’ direction — was not working.
He said the collection, renamed 205W39NYC, needed to become more commercial, and that investments in the collection and advertising would be shifted elsewhere. Sources indicated that Simons caused a lot of havoc in the company and overspent on everything.
In November 2019, Simons made his first public appearance after leaving Calvin Klein at a fashion conference in Antwerp.
Simons, who also lives in the city, shared his opinions about the state of the fashion system, the creativity and value behind a design, and the importance of staying independent and supporting the new generation, as well as his frustration and reflection on his previous positions at Jil Sander and Dior.
While he did not mention Calvin Klein during his 35-minute talk, between the lines, his views seemed clear.
“These big brands are very much now driven by marketing and growth, and it’s rare that a designer is good in both aspects. I am definitely not good at all aspects,” he said.