When intellect meets
emotion - Raf Simons

March 06 2014

Joyce visited Raf Simons at his artful home in Antwerp, where he talked about his emotional self and his positive approach to creativity.


Arriving at Raf Simons’ home is like stepping into a personalised art gallery. Simons welcomed and led us into the two-storey living room, replete of modern sculptures and paintings by the likes of Evan Holloway and Mike Kelly. Simons is not a fashion designer ”slash” amateur art collector, quite the contrary, he is a true connoisseur in many different creative fields.


Here is an overview of Simons’ impressive CV: a trained industrial designer who has curated a number of art exhibitions in Europe in the 80’s. He started his eponymous menswear label in the 90’s and began teaching fashion at the University of Applied Arts Vienna in 2000. After 5 years of juggling the theoretical and the practical, in 2005 he was appointed creative director of Jil Sander. Since 2012, he has been the creative director of Christian Dior womenswear, overseeing both ready-to-wear and haute couture. In tandem to the Dior position, he continues to run his namesake label. The designing processing power equates to 10 collections a year!


“I can’t be in the same situation every day, I need that contrast. It was a well- considered choice to join Dior. Dior has such important historical values with an established base of clientele. My brand was born in 90’s, the clientele has been growing with the brand since day one. Dior is an institution, Raf Simons is a small independent company. One is womenswear, the other is menswear. This contrast naturally brings the synergy to both teams and collections.”


Simon’s entry into the fashion world was not as considered as one may imagine. In fact, Simons described it as rather a “clumsy” journey.


“When I was working as an industrial designer during the 80’s I felt so isolated and that the process was too slow for me. It was during the height of glamour, think Versace, 


“ I couldn’t relate to fashion at all until I saw the third show of Martin Margiela. I was suddenly confronted to his conceptual design, intellectual thinking and social awareness. It was very emotional to me.”


I then decided to make a menswear collection hoping to convince the founder and then director of MOMU Linda Loppa to offer me a place in the fashion department. But she decided to send me to a showroom and that’s where ‘Raf Simons’ began.”


This Margiela epiphany naturally influenced Simons’ approach to fashion.  It has been 18 years since he pioneered presenting his collection through film rather than the traditional catwalk approach.  The Raf Simons Spring Summer 2014 collection was shown outside the city of Paris, not a common fashion week venue given the hectic schedule.  In the past decade, menswear is becoming more complicated and interesting with the struggles seen between “Garde-Robe” vs commercial styling. Simons is one of the significant designers who has been quietly shaping the modern direction of menswear.

“I think men who buy fashion now are getting more interested in womenswear and to me, that’s a nice challenge and it creates an interesting dialogue between us and the customers.”


There has been much rhetorical dialogue of late amongst fashion insiders about how fashion has succumbed to the drivers of business and its notorious seasonal driven collections. For a designer like Simons who needs to master the dark arts of multi-tasking and quick turnover of collections, he somehow manages to stay calm and honest, almost zen-like while keeping up with the dizzying pace.


 “It doesn’t make sense to fight it. I‘m grateful to be a creative director because I love being creative too much. One cannot blame this situation on anyone, it’s just the world has changed.  Yes, everything is so instant that it takes away the mystique, the curiosity and the patience and I suffer from it. But I remain romantic and optimistic of the future, especially if you choose fashion, you need to be positive.“


Is he not worried that there won’t be another “Margiela” moment in the future because of the current system?


“I’m a huge fan of the young generation, only they can change. The people who are in fashion are too far into it. Can you imagine Chanel or Dior turn around and say ‘we will only do 2 collections a year now’? Only the young and new can do it because fashion wants new all the time.”



Interview by Lucienne Leung-Davies
Portrait and film by Danny Sangra