The funny thing about the announcement that Raf Simons would join Prada as co-creative director along with Miuccia is that Raf has been on my mind of late. And it’s not just because of recent rumors swirling about this history-making move before its confirmation on Sunday.
Along with Thom Browne, the departure of Raf Simons from NYFW (after being fired as chief creative officer of Calvin Klein in 2018), dealt New York fashion week another death blow and left a gaping hole in the week. As it turned out, the elements that made Raf a fashion force, are the same ones that alienated him from PVH Group which owns Calvin Klein Inc.
And yet, these are precisely the reasons that make his new partnership with Miuccia Prada like a match made in heaven — on paper anyway. Like Miuccia, Raf loves to challenge existing conventions of beauty, and he is no stranger to the weird, the wonderful, and the wacky. They are both fond of experimenting with innovative fabrics and are nonconformists who prize creativity and individuality.
One of the possible reasons for Raf’s firing from Calvin Klein was the money he devoted to the collaboration with The Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, which was mostly met with indifference by consumers.
Raf will assuredly have an ally in Miuccia, who is a champion of the arts. They are on the same wavelength. Prada Spring 2018 was shown against a backdrop of feminist art
Raf was head of design at Jil Sander (2005- 2012), Christian Dior (2012-2015), and Calvin Klein (2016-2018). The Belgian born designer has always been prescient and ahead of the curve. As adept with day wear as evening wear, Raf is both a dreamer and a realist. He is obsessed with the idea of freedom. Like Miuccia, who is a staunch feminist, Raf always exhibits a fabulous color sense and a deft hand with construction and precise tailoring.
Other shared passions: their love of modern art, their respect for the street, and a respect for the past but the need to keep it modern and relevant.
Raf’s elegant yet edgy designs are best described as “something beautiful, simultaneously minimal, and chaotically expressive”. The same is said about the densely packed installations of Sterling Ruby, the LA-based artist with whom Raf has collaborated for decades and who he called upon to help remake Calvin Klein.
Mr. Simons acknowledged that while he understood what Calvin Klein meant from the outside, Mr. Sterling, who is American, understands what the label means from the inside.
The fall 2020 collections ended in Milan on Sunday, and they begin in Paris on Monday. Thus far, it was a mixed bag and all over the place. But, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been recurring themes, and I keep seeing vestiges of Raf on the runways. Miuccia Prada’s included.
I see Raf in the ongoing subversion of the classics; the irreverent, eccentric approach to glamour; the offbeat color combinations; the use of artisanal DIY elements; the mix of street and couture, day and evening, masculine and feminine, the humble and the luxurious.
Raf did not invent cowboy boots, but they became ubiquitous after Simons showed them for his inaugural CALVINKLEIN205W39 fall 2017 runway show. Square toed cowboy boots are pervasive on the runways this season as well.
And then there is fringe, which comes and goes from fashion’s favor. Freedom of movement is inherent to modernity, and nothing accentuates movement quite like fringe. Almost nobody did fringe as colorfully or as exuberantly as Raf did for Calvin Klein in the spring of 2018.
Fringe was on the recent runways in New York and London. In Milan, they have appeared at Jil Sander, Prada, Boss, and Bottega Veneta now under the tutelage of Daniel Lee.
There is no question that the 33-year-old Daniel is the ‘Man of the Hour.’ The Brit worked under Phoebe Philo at Celine as director of Ready-to-Wear, and he spent seven years at the house. Like Simons, Phoebe loves playful fringe, and she has used it exuberantly in several of her collections. So it shouldn’t be surprising that I was reminded of Philo several times during the recent Bottega Veneta show.
Among the doppelgangers is Daniel’s deeply fringed shearling blanket he used to accessorize a brown leather maxi trench. It had a similar feeling to Philo’s deeply fringed green alpaca blanket she showed with a black leather maxi dress.
By the way, one of Lee’s strengths is his accessories. His squishy oversized Pouch bag (priced from the mid $2000s through the $3000’s) is reported by Vogue as Kering’s best- selling bag ever, Lee’s humongous, deeply fringed clutch bags from fall 2020 are sure to be instant hits, even if they are not very practical.
Funny. I remember a few years ago when oversized clutch bags were the bags of the moment. In discussing its unwieldy aspect, an editor at Vogue wrote that carrying one was akin to having an arm in a sling.
Meanwhile, only time will tell if Daniel Lee will have the influence and staying power of Raf Simons, but he is certainly off to a good start.