In just two decades, the Belgian designer Raf Simons has headed four of the world’s most prestigious fashion houses, transformed the silhouette of men’s fashion, and reimagined the way street style and fine art can influence design. Restless and yet fully-actualized in his aesthetic from the start, Simons continually manages to surprise while reasserting his sharp, fearless vision.
Simons studied industrial and furniture design in Genk, but an internship at Walter Van Beirendonck set the stage for his life in fashion. In 1995, he founded his own menswear label, specializing in razor-thin suiting. By the turn of the century, men around the world had tightened up their apparel. Two months before 9/11, Simons showed a controversial collection accessorized by face-coverings and lit flares. Four years later, he introduced sex appeal to minimalism as head of men’s and womenswear for Jil Sander. In 2012, Dior came calling; in response, he provided edgy takes on smoking suits and pastel couture as creative director. Simons shocked the industry by resigning in 2016, launching a collection under his own name that applied Robert Mapplethorpe’s homoerotic photography to streetwear, then joining Americana icon Calvin Klein as chief creative officer. His kitsch collaborations with Sterling Ruby and taxicab-yellow makeover of John Pawson’s minimalist temple of a Madison Avenue flagship attracted major attention, but after two years Simons moved on again.
In 2014, Simons initiated an ongoing collaboration with Kvadrat, utilizing the Danish master’s innovative textiles in a Calvin Klein collection. The apparel was such a success that the pair decided to bring the fabrics home, for a series of textile collections marrying Simon’s severe wit and Kvadrat’s peerless fabrications. Meanwhile, the catwalk came calling again: in April 2020, Simons joined Prada in the role of co-creative director.