Right now, college students around the country are making their spring schedules. For many, this means worrying about their choice of major and what kind of future it will bring. If you’re among the unsure, this week's Designer Spotlight is for you.
Since entering the industry in 1995, Raf Simons has become one of fashion’s most renowned figures. After stints at Jil Sander and Dior where he was creative director, he now oversees his eponymous menswear line. This past August, he was named Creative Director of yet another storied house, Calvin Klein.
However, Raf Simons did not enter college with dreams of making it big in the fashion world. In fact, the Belgian designer graduated from college with a degree in industrial and furniture design. This was in 1991. Only four years later, his career path would completely change.
From House to House
After college, Simons began work as a furniture designer for galleries and private interiors. He also interned at the studio of Belgian fashion designer Walter van Beirendonck. His job was to work on the presentation and décor of the designer’s showrooms and collections.
In 1991, van Beirendonck took Simons to Paris Fashion Week. Here, Simons saw his first fashion show, Martin Margiela’s third runway show. The theme was all-white, where the models wore white dresses and transparent plastic. In an interview with rapper Kanye West he said,
“Nothing else in fashion has had such a big impact on me. It was a show where half the audience cried, including myself. I was just like, "What! This is fashion?" Only at that point did I understand what fashion could be or what it could mean to people.”
Life, for Raf Simons, then took a radical 180. In 1995, he launched his first collection, a men’s line, thereby creating his eponymous label. He was self-trained. Five years later, he was appointed the head professor of the fashion department at the University of Applied Arts in Austria. He would stay there until June 2005.
Simons began designing for Jil Sander in 2005. He designed both the men’s and womenswear collections. In Fall 2006, his debut was met with praise. He brought a new flirty vibe to house while still staying true to the minimalist one Jil Sander was known for. He spent seven years at the fashion house, leaving in February 2012.
In April 2012, Simons was named creative director at Christian Dior for women’s haute couture, ready-to-wear, and accessory collections. Only two months later, in July 2012, he presented his first haute couture collection. Again, he received acclaim for giving Dior’s historically romantic pieces - like the big skirts, the fitted Bar jacket, and flowers - a modern edge. He used contemporary art and modern materials to give the pieces a new edge. In 2015, Simons tapped Rihanna to be the new face of the house, making her the first black woman to do so.
Does this sound familiar? You may have seen it on film. The documentary Dior and I also came out this year. Heavily featuring Simon’s role at the house, it received great reviews.
After much success at Dior, Simons resigned from the house on October 2, 2015 to focus on his own line.
Something Old, Something New
When designing for his own label, Simons loves to reference Antwerp’s '90s youth culture. Music, art, and performance are some of Simons biggest influences. His collections often have a youthful, rebellious, devil-may-care energy to them. He also uses athletic influences and deconstructionism in many of his pieces, always achieving a minimalist look. Simons constantly fuses modern renditions of men’s tailoring with streetwear.
His love for streetwear also led to his collection for athletic wear company Adidas. A big fan of the Adidas Stan Smith shoe, Simons began a collaboration with the company in 2013. The updates he brought to the Stan Smith shoes, bringing in vibrant colors and perforating a “R” on the side, made them instant best sellers.
Raf Simons also loves a healthy dose of innovation. While he doesn't favor the runway-to-retail model Rebecca Minkoff does, he does like innovation in his clothing. His label repeatedly shows the fashion world how traditional pieces can be redesigned in modern ways.
On August 2, 2016, Raf Simons was named chief creative officer of Calvin Klein. With this role, Raf is now responsible for the Calvin Klein Collection, Calvin Klein Home, as well as the ads, communications, and visual creative services the brand puts out. His Calvin Klein debut is set for the Fall 2017 fashion season. If you’re counting, that’s four debuts for different houses.
All of this is made even more amazing because of his initial background of studying furniture design. In his own words, Simons never intended to pursue a career in fashion:
‘‘I wasn’t someone who was so interested in ‘fashion’ before I went to university. I was not obsessed with clothes, at all,’’ Simons says.
The story of Raf Simons reminds us that we really don't know what our futures will hold. Raf's experience can teach us that our projected career plans don't always go the way we imagined, and our majors won't always lead to specific careers. Most of all, his story tells us that it’s ok to be unsure.
It's a story college students around the country definitely need to be told right now.
Are you a fan of Raf Simons? Do you like his creative direction at these fashion houses? Do you think he's a good fit for Calvin Klein? Can you relate to how his career was totally different from his major? Any suggestions for our next designer spotlight?