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18-09-2005
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'Raf' - NY Times profile on Raf Simons
Cathy Horyn wrote a five-(internet)page-long encomium of Raf Simons in the NY Times' Men's Style Magazine. It's an interesting read - fawning, but unusually intimate.
Quote:
Raf
By CATHY HORYN
Published: September 18, 2005


photo by Rineke Dijkstra

The damp, persistent chill had ended, and by noon in Westende, a community of high-rise apartment buildings on the coast of Belgium, the temperature had risen to 65 degrees. At cafe tables along the boardwalk, middle-aged women opened the tops of their blouses, while down on the beach, pinkish bodies, plumped by their Lycra casings, lay between the canvas windbreaks.

Raf Simons leaned against the rail of his balcony. He had made the 90-minute drive from Antwerp, where he lives most of the year, in part to satisfy my curiosity to see his place at the beach. When I first spoke to him, by telephone, more than a year ago, he had described the place as ''crappy.'' I don't know why, but I liked him immediately. Westende was all he said it was. The Germans in World War II built bunkers there, and you can still see their ghastly windows in the dunes, but for the most part, the history of Westende is the history of the past 20 years: concrete pedestrian plazas with shops and restaurants where you can have a beer and eat shrimp croquettes while listening to Europop.

Simons's apartment is on the top floor of a 1970's building. It has a small living room and kitchenette, with two bedrooms and a bath on the second floor. There is a wood stove, a section of a black sectional sofa and one wall papered in a blue-cloud pattern, left over from the previous owner. Simons dragged the sectional piece out to the terrace and then opened a bag of Doritos and the liter of Diet Coke that he had brought with him in a plastic shopping sack. Later we went down to the boardwalk. It was crowded with young families and old people who, from the look of their clothes, were middle-class Belgians. At the end of the boardwalk we came to the dunes. ''Will you be all right in those shoes?'' Simons asked. I took off my sandals, and we crossed the dunes until we were on the flat, hard beach. The shimmer on the North Sea had turned to a pale mauve, and the air was sweet and sticky with the approach of evening. I looked back at the boardwalk. It was physically ugly, but there was something moving in all that collective effort to reach the sea -- to be able to raise your glass of beer. We climbed the last of the breakers that jutted into the water and returned to the apartment, where Simons gathered up his plastic bag. Then we got into his Volvo wagon and headed toward Antwerp, past the German bunkers and the tram lines, until the brown coast turned into the familiar deep green of Belgium in the late spring.

Simons is probably the most influential men's-wear designer of the last decade. ''He did everything before anyone else, and everybody has copied him,'' Marie-Amelie Sauve, the stylist for Balenciaga, said. Although Simons is virtually unknown outside the small world of European men's fashion (he shows in Paris), his effect on the way young men dress cannot be overstated. Only with training, genius, intoxicating amounts of culture and possibly a discreet drug habit have a handful of designers been able to change the shape of clothes. Simons, without any of these advantages, has done it three times. The first time was in the mid-1990's, at the beginning of his career, when he came out with suits that were cut unusually small in the shoulders. The skinny black suit was not a new idea; it had been in existence since the late 50's, pleasing playboys and punks until Helmut Lang picked it up. But by putting his suits on sapling-thin Belgian boys who were not agency models, Simons introduced the idea that a young man's physical size was not at variance with his sense of isolation, a feeling that would have been ordinary to anyone who had grown up in Antwerp -- or Rotterdam or Manchester -- in isolated apartment towers built since the war, and who had spent a lot of time listening to bands like Joy Division and Kraftwerk, whose 22-minute song, ''Autobahn,'' managed to convey the monotony of riding on the German superhighway. If Gucci's caftans and Jean Paul Gaultier's cowboy chaps didn't represent the same emotional trip to this generation, Simons's minimalist suits did. They became the dominant silhouette of the late 90's. I once asked him what made him think of that shape. As usual, he had a straightforward explanation. ''It was just because we were so small,'' he said.

The second time was in 2001, with two collections that played host to the layered, hooded, sinister image of the urban guerrilla. Although these shows were later seen as eerily anticipating the reality of 9/11, and were meant, according to Peter De Potter, a writer who collaborates with Simons, to express more mundane concerns like a fear of globalization, their chief effect was to start the trend for oversize layers. The third time was last January, when Simons brought out wide, high-waisted trousers with Eisenhower jackets. He felt that the basic element of men's design, proportion, had become secondary to postmodern abstractions. ''I was so fed up with how all these people were tweaking the silhouette,'' he said. ''Very few were working on shape. It was all about two pleats, then three, then six. And in the end you get 250,000 pleats. And embroidery. I thought, No, we have to strip it off.'' Simons also looked at the influence of skateboarding as early as 1996 in a charming video presentation called ''16, 17, How to Talk to Your Teen,'' and at more pessimistic currents, like Gabba, a working-class youth culture confined to the Netherlands that led him, in 2000, to produce ''Isolated Heroes,'' a book of portraits with the photographer David Sims. Whereas most designers build their collections around a theme -- say, Capri in the 60's -- Simons has built his entire career around the ideas and attitudes of a generation of men. His 22 shows and video presentations, and his photographic and curatorial projects, like ''The Fourth Sex,'' a 2003 exhibition in Florence, are a catalog of youth's extremes, seen through the single window of Antwerp and told in a quiet voice that lets us know, This is how it actually is.

Not everybody has been paying attention. In May, when Prada announced it had hired Simons to succeed Jil Sander at her label, many editors and retailers drew a blank. Jay Fielden, the editor of the new Men's Vogue, told me that until he saw Simons in the front row at the Sander men's show in June, he didn't know what the 37-year-old designer looked like. Simons's anonymity in a world he influences can be explained by the fact that the men's business doesn't produce stars the way the women's side does. But even if this were not so, even if he did not live in Antwerp -- where, as the designer Walter Van Beirendonck said, ''you present yourself mainly through your work and a little bit outside the fashion world'' -- even then, he would discourage interest. He possesses none of those small deceptive tricks of personality that the fashion world relies on and are commonly called guile. He is, almost ideally, a blank -- a person without surface in a superficial world. In 10 years, he has agreed only once to pose for a portrait (he thought portraits were just downright embarrassing). In a sense, the person who represents Raf Simons, and whose face appears on the cover of his recent retrospective catalog, is not Simons but a much-tattooed, 28-year-old model named Robbie Snelders, who functions as his alter ego and also runs his office.

Simons is a fashion mystery, and maybe the most mysterious thing about him is that he just shows up. A few years ago, hearing that he was to give a show at a club in Lower Manhattan, Julie Gilhart, the fashion director of Barneys New York, decided that she would go and introduce herself. But after searching the crowded club for an hour, she left. ''All I could see were men in hoods,'' she said. Then last March, Gilhart was in Paris, waiting to take her seat at the Alexander McQueen show. ''Somebody was being interviewed by a TV crew, so I was just standing there, kind of lost in my thoughts,'' she said. ''I felt this tap on my arm, and my first thought was, Oh, please don't let it be a designer with a collection he wants to show me. It was really late. I turned around, and there was this good-looking guy in a trench coat. He said, 'Are you Julie Gilhart?' I said, 'Yes.' And he said, 'I'm Raf.'''

Although a Simons show can look intimidatingly cool, he himself is warm, gentle, forthright. With people he likes, he can quickly establish an intimacy that confuses both sexes. An American writer I know in Paris, a married man, insisted that Simons was gay on the basis of a firm hug that Simons had once given him after a show, while a woman who has known him many years said with an assured smile, when I returned from Antwerp in May, ''He's complicated, isn't he?'' I don't know. A guy who will go to the beach with only a bag of Doritos and a bottle of Coke can't be that complicated. While we were on the terrace, Simons got a call from Marc Foxx, a Los Angeles gallery owner, informing him that he had lost out on a Brian Calvin painting that he wanted. Simons has been collecting contemporary art for years and has works by, among others, Katy Grannan and Evan Holloway. But I also recall that he had a half-dozen boxes of Marlboro Lights stuffed in the door pockets of his car, all of them empty.

Simons is extremely sensitive -- you can make him cry -- and extremely masculine. When I saw him a month later, in Vienna, where he was finishing a five-year stint as visiting fashion professor at the University of Applied Arts, he said that, with people with whom he is close: ''I really like that it becomes very romantic. Not only in a relationship but also in the friendships.''

He went on: ''People who don't know me look at my world as something very hard-core, and I don't feel it that way. It's not what attracts me. We go to the sea, five or six of us, and we're all in pajamas with candles around and watching movies. O.K., maybe we're watching a good movie, but we also watch trash movies. We've never really been that kind of group that goes to the scenes where all the cool people hang out.''

The Belgian designer Veronique Branquinho, who was Simons's girlfriend between 1995 and 2000, agreed: ''In a way, he's very much a family man. He likes to be at home. He's very cozy about his family.''

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18-09-2005
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cont'd
Quote:
Branquinho first met Simons as she was riding her bike past a cafe in Antwerp where Simons was sitting with Olivier Rizzo, a stylist who, like De Potter, had gone to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, which had produced the Antwerp Six, a seminal group of designers that includes Dries Van Noten. Simons, who comes from a rural town near the Dutch and German borders and is the only child of a career soldier and a housecleaner, had studied industrial design at a university in Genk. Like a lot of Belgian teenagers in the 80's, he watched ''Top Pop,'' a weekly Dutch television show that featured stars like David Bowie and Blondie, and he went through a goth phase, a problem at his Catholic school. ''It was very hard-core,'' he said. ''Priests, priests, priests. If one or two of your friends dressed differently, which of course in the 80's was black, you couldn't stand together on the playing field.'' (Significantly, a number of Simons's collections have alluded to school uniforms and priests, and the casting of many of the same models reflects an early obsession with repetition.) But his childhood was unrebellious, even wholesome, and it wasn't until the late 80's -- when he started going more to Antwerp and did an internship with Van Beirendonck and met Rizzo -- that he thought about becoming a designer.

De Potter says that Simons was intimidated by the Antwerp academy crowd: ''He was scared to death of us.'' Simons says he was especially unnerved by Branquinho, whom he used to see around Antwerp but never spoke to until that day she rode past the cafe. ''Veronique was one of those girls that I was just, you know, always attracted to but was very far away, and it was unreachable,'' he told me. He asked Branquinho if she would be in an eight-millimeter movie he was making of his second collection, with just some friends hanging out in a house and Rizzo holding a cheap light; and it was on that night that Simons and Branquinho began their relationship, sharing a bed with Rizzo and another boy, because it was too late to drive back home.

''He was a very serious guy compared to me,'' Branquinho said. ''I was a girl who was going off a lot -- rock 'n' roll, a wild life. This was not his world. He was very intrigued by it, so he surrounded himself always with people who were connected to it. But it was never his world.'' Yet it's remarkable, as she points out, that Simons not only was able to connect with someone like Robbie Snelders but also could see merits that maybe weren't evident in 1997, when Snelders, then 20, a scruffy kid in ripped army pants, a follower of the Sisters of Mercy, was recruited one day to be in a show. Today, Simons says that Snelders is one of the most important people in his company. ''He knows how important it is to have a couple of people around me -- 'family' is not the right word -- who are very intimate,'' Simons said. ''At a certain point he said to me, 'I know you don't ask me, but as long as you want to work with me, I will be with you.'''

Simons can be very persistent, even ''possessive,'' according to Linda Loppa, the head of the fashion department at the academy, who was a mentor to Simons. ''He wants to know everything from the people around him.'' Branquinho said: ''He's very demanding. It's all about love as everything or nothing.'' Yet the flip side to this devouring nature, Rizzo suggests, is a responsiveness to things that creates intense loyalties. Rizzo recalls the day he graduated, in 1993, from the academy: ''I had just done my final show, Gaultier was in the jury and afterward Raf came backstage. He was crying. I was kind of comforting him. Raf is a very emotional person. He gets touched really deeply by things. He said to me: 'What you did was really amazing. So fantastic, and I want to be part of this world.' And I said, 'You will be part of this world.''' But, as Rizzo says, Simons's hammering actually betrays a virtue: ''What you felt from Raf was that he was a very social guy but wasn't someone who got very close to a lot of people, and when he really liked someone he wanted to go to the bottom of it. He has a general interest in people. In that sense he was very into knowing everything.''

Simons doesn't present his first collections for Jil Sander until early next year. But while the chance to do both men's and women's clothes is exciting and will bring him some long-overdue recognition as well as financial security after years of running his own company rather close to the bone (often with as few as three people), it will not change his basic values and ideas. I once asked him if it bothered him that he wasn't better known. He answered: ''I have done what I believed in. So what is recognition? For me, recognition is about people you have a relation with. Somewhere, in some city in America, someone is wearing my clothes, and I'm happy with that.'' Simons, who has a three-year contract with Sander, is also approaching the job -- and his relationship with Prada's chief executive, Patrizio Bertelli -- with the attitude of someone who has nothing to lose; unlike Sander and Helmut Lang, he has not sold his name. ''People are not going to judge my work and my label and me as a person if it's not going to work out,'' he said. ''And that makes it more convincing for me to go for it.'' But it's pointless to speculate about whether he'll get along with Bertelli, who manages, it seems, to tick off everybody, including his wife, the designer Miuccia Prada; once, in a product meeting with her, he reportedly said that he would urinate on her handbags. Simons says that his own dealings with Bertelli have been cordial, but he observed: ''I think if he would listen

a little bit more, or a little longer, it would be a good difference for him and the people who work with him. I can't complain, because when I was there he really took his time. But I feel it more with the other people in the room. Those people are all there to help him.''

Snelders, though, worries for Simons. He worries that the things that have so far been unimportant to Simons will find a way of entering his small, protective world -- maybe change it altogether. ''It sounds scary, but he needs to be left alone,'' Snelders told me. ''He spends way too much time on the phone doing interviews, daft stuff. The phone is constantly ringing, like, for nothing. He needs a new mobile phone.''
The central question about Simons, and the one that has gone unanswered, is: How did he do it? How was someone without training or signs of genius able to project such a remarkably accurate portrait of urban youth? And not only that, but how was he able to give the idea by his choice of music and use of large public spaces that youth was also a monumental event?

Simons was 25 when he settled in Antwerp, too old to get lost in the club scene that had influenced many of his contemporaries. Surrounding himself with people like Snelders certainly helped. (In that sense, Simons, for all his calculated distancing from the fashion world, is a seductive personality -- and he knows it.) But this doesn't explain everything. Although a number of writers have ascribed Simons's powers to intellect, he actually embodies a different quality. He looks at everything very simply and directly. This was the quality that Lionel Trilling identified in George Orwell, and that he celebrated in his introduction to Orwell's ''Homage to Catalonia.'' Trilling argued that Orwell was able to see the Spanish Civil War for what it was by virtue of not being a genius. ''We admire geniuses, we love them, but they discourage us,'' he wrote. ''They are great concentrations of intellect and emotion, we feel that they have soaked up all the available power, monopolizing it and leaving none for us. We feel that if we cannot be as they, we can be nothing.'' In fashion, Karl Lagerfeld and John Galliano are geniuses, but they don't communicate the sense, as Simons does, that we can understand our world just by looking at it. We feel we have to be as smart and cool as they are. Simons, the coolest of designers, tells us differently.

When I saw Simons in Vienna, I mentioned that I had seen his shows described as many things -- dark, aggressive -- but never romantic. Though a romantic is surely what he is. For a moment there was a look of surprise in his pale blue eyes, and then he said: ''Because very few people go into the heart of things. They look at the surface, but I hunger for an ideal world always. Before I came to the city, I had also had the feeling that I grew up in an ideal world. My mom and my dad, what they have together is amazing. Then there's my village, with the grass fields and the woods and the animals.'' This has been the perspective all along, from the eight-millimeter movie through to the recent collections -- of someone looking at contemporary life from the vantage of his own humble background and wanting to make it not merely right but better. Not many designers would have the instinct to call a collection History of the World, as Simons did in July 2004, and have the models descend on a pair of huge escalators or print on their invitation the names of people and things that had changed the modern world, as if to suggest that fashion -- or any one of us -- could do the same. How many people would make such a moral claim in a cynical age?

This summer, as I stood with Michael Roberts, the fashion editor of The New Yorker, outside Galliano's men's show, he recalled a collection that Simons had presented in 1998, on a series of concrete overpasses that were reflected, like the surrounding Paris neighborhood, in a huge futuristic silver ball. The show opened with ''Space Oddity,'' by David Bowie, and at first, Roberts said, the audience didn't know where to direct its attention. ''We were all sitting there, waiting and wondering, Where are the models going to come from?'' he said. ''I'm looking through the haze of this warm summer evening, and then, in the distance, about three overpasses away, I see this line of boys in black suits walking along, like union workers, one after the other. It dawned on me that this was the show. Then they disappeared and came along the nearer overpass. It was just unbelievable. So eerie and so beautiful.''

I said that in looking back at all of Simons's shows, it seemed to me that they didn't date. The clothes from the 90's still looked relevant today. Roberts agreed. I wondered how that was possible.

''I don't know,'' he said. He thought for a moment as we watched people file into the Galliano show, which would feature a New Orleans-style band and many orange-robed Hare Krishnas. Finally, Roberts said, nodding, ''Because he was right, and we were all looking away.''
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/18/style/tmagazine/TM1923192.html?pagewanted=1

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18-09-2005
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Thank you droogist:-)

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18-09-2005
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^ You're welcome.

BTW the article was accompanied by a "Raf Simmons (sic - given the effort involved, you'd think they'd at least be able to spell his name right ) Timeline": http://www.nytimes.com/packages/khtm...mj2shWWzTxQvjw

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Last edited by droogist; 18-09-2005 at 07:55 AM.
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interesting droogist

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that was a good read, an interesting insight...thankyou Droogist

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18-09-2005
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Thanks droogist, a really great aticle

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18-09-2005
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thanks droogist. i loved this part:

Quote:
In fashion, Karl Lagerfeld and John Galliano are geniuses, but they don't communicate the sense, as Simons does, that we can understand our world just by looking at it.
that touched me. it's very earthy and smart.

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I had bags of fun reading this, many thanks droogist!

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19-09-2005
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ah, i'd like to thank you too droogist. i really liked the part which travolta elightened there and i'm even wearing his spring '02 hoodie now...

woe onto those who spit on the fear generation... the wind will blow it back.

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19-09-2005
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Thanks for posting this droogist. Very informative!

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Quote:
Originally Posted by travolta
thanks droogist. i loved this part:



that touched me. it's very earthy and smart.
What do you take that to mean travolta. I don't understand it. Don't you think that it's overstating the case to suggest that any kind of fashion can make you understand the world?

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19-09-2005
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/\ much or rather, but i think what raf was trying to emphasize on there whether anything in today's fashion triggers any reaction, gets any message across or is simply fashion for fashion's sake. looking back at his previous spring '02 collection, some people out there probably appreciated it deeper, deeper than they recognized the significant beauty and symbolism exhibited by karl lagerfeld and john galliano which weren't based on culture but imagination, a fiction competition. in that sense they are not "sincere" and leave one feeling neutral, as does a total fiction special effects movie compared to a true story one.

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19-09-2005
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haha...37 yrs old...

this is becoming a familiar number...
it's generation X coming into its own...


yay us!!!...

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19-09-2005
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The woman can write!

Thanks droogist

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