There are few working designers so vocally obsessed with youth culture as Raf Simons. But the youth Simons seeks to explore isn’t the youth of today—the young people advocating for climate justice, leading protests against police brutality and racism, and volunteering as poll workers. It’s his own youth that interests him. The metadata of his website, where he streamed his spring 2021 film “Teenage Dreams,” reads: “I don’t want to show clothes, I want to show my attitude, my past, present, and future. I use memories and future visions and try to place them in today’s world.”
Designers are plumbing their own histories more than ever in this digital and isolated spring 2021 season, but this has always been Simons’s way. The press release for his teen dream collection lists the films that inspired him, many of which he has cited before, from Alien and Alice in Wonderland to Picnic at Hanging Rock and A Nightmare on Elm Street. The release also notes three very apt Joy Division songs: “Isolation,” “Incubation,” and “Disorder.”
That’s the totality of Simons’s statements on this collection, which features his first official foray into womenswear at this brand and his first fashion film since his start in the late ’90s, when similarly rakish models loafed about in Belgian photo studios and homes. Back then they smoked ciggys and drank champers and smushed into a single couch. In today’s film they populate in a nuclear floral set by Mark Colle: possessed, crawling on the floor, snatched into a web.
As Simons’s youth in revolt slunk around in the film, punctuated by pulsing beats by Senjan Jansen, his signatures came into focus. The silhouette was as slim as ever and there was ample sloganeering and graphics, things his customers old and young adore, as well as photo prints of family members of Raf’s studio team. Raf stans will appreciate the continuity of his long lean silk skirts, colorful turtlenecks with R monograms at the throat, sleeveless tunics, and body-wrapping perspex tops. A big mustard knit, the sort of ginormous sweater Simons himself often wears, will be another fan favorite. It’s worn by both a male and female model, proving the point that while this is technically a womenswear debut, female shoppers have long found comfort in Simons’s work.
The new intonations in his collection are subtle—well, other than the swirling psychedelic print that swings off sleeves and colors a new hoodie-cape. The biggest sartorial shift is the emergence of the vest, haltered around the neck and either slicked close to the body or hanging long as a layering piece beyond hoodies and roomy coats. Interspersed throughout the collection, the vests suggest sophistication, or maybe a parody of it. With oversize blazers, anoraks worn raggy, and jackets with the sleeves hiked up to the shoulder, the styling is meant to evoke a sloppish irreverence. Still, these are some of the most elegantly possessed “riot riot riot”-ers he’s ever sent out.
Maybe it looks that way in 2020 because the provocations of Simons’s and his naughties peers have become not just classics, but standards. The outsiders have become insiders—none more so than Simons, with a series of plum jobs that have taken him from Milan, Paris, and New York back to Milan again with Prada. In doubling down on what he does best, he reaffirms himself—and maybe reminds a new audience—as the originator of the sulky-skinny-teens-kicking-up-trouble look. (He will also reissue 100 archival pieces this December to mark his 30th anniversary in fashion.) There is safety and salability to nostalgia, and in reinforcing his codes he pushes them beyond trend into timelessness.
That sounds nice. The revolution, even by Simons’s admission, is not for him. Earlier this year he told The Cut: “But the nature of a revolution in fashion is that it comes from someone we don’t know.” Youth, if you’re reading this, revolt!