Raf Simons – “Not knowing what’s coming is very romantic after all”. The menswear label Raf Simons was founded in 1995. The Belgian designer draws a lot of inspiration from the rebellious youth subcultures of the nineties and, like other fashion brands, tries to combine them with the precision and techniques of traditional menswear. He is constantly looking to redefine masculinity, and personal statements about individuality are an integral part of his creative process. Despite his constant quest for innovation, the fundamental elements of the Raf Simons brand remain intact. Modern proportions, classic constructions and unique, high-quality fabrics designed with the self-confident outsider in mind. Raf Simons fashion is known for its slim, linear silhouettes, which is why women also love to wear one or another piece by the fashion designer. His looks can be described as young and progressive. But who is behind the Raf Simons brand? And what influence did the fashion have on the scene? This and much more you will learn in this article about Raf Simons.
Designer Raf Jan Simons: industrial designer from Belgium
Who designs Raf Simons? Born in 1968 in Neerpelt in Limburg, Belgium, Raf Jan Simons studied industrial design in Genk, Belgium, graduating in 1991. After his internship at Walter van Beirendonck, where he designed showrooms for collections, among other things, he eventually began designing furniture for galleries and private employers. At the suggestion of the then head of the Fashion School of the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, and with no previous professional training, he moved into fashion a few years later.
The career of the designer
After his breakthrough with his brand Raf Simons, he was creative director at Jil Sander from 2005 – 2012. From 2012 to 2015, he succeeded John Galliano as artistic director of Christian Dior ‘s women’s collections. In 2016 – 2018, he was responsible for the design of Calvin Klein as Chief Creative Officer. Then, from April 2020, he became co-creative director at Prada. He also taught as a lecturer at the University of Applied Arts Vienna from 2000 to 2005, where he led the fashion class.
Here you can see a picture of Raf Jan Simons:
Here again an overview of his activities in the fashion sector
- 1995: First collection for Raf Simons
- 2000 – 2005: Lecturer at the University of Applied Arts Vienna
- 2005 – 2012: Creative Director at Jil Sanders
- 2012 – 2015: Artistic Director of the women’s collection at Dior.
- 2016 – 2018: Chief Creative Officer for Design at Calvin Klein
- From 2020: Co-Creative Director at Prada
History of the brand: influence on the present & modernity
Before we present you some of the most famous Raf Simons masterpieces, you will first learn about the history of the brand and how it has changed over the years. What makes Raf Simons stand out? The influence Raf Simons has on contemporary and modern fashion is bigger than you think, so it’s important to understand where the brand comes from, what inspirations it takes, and how it has evolved over the years.
Rebellious 90s: the beginning of Raf Simons
The brand made its debut on the fashion scene with its first collection in 1995 called ‘Raf’ by Raf Simons, which he presented first in Antwerp and then in Milan. The first collection featured slim, linear silhouettes with quotes from punk and goth. In the New York Times, Simons was credited in the tradition of Helmut Lang as the inventor of the emphatically narrow men’s silhouette that became increasingly common in men’s fashion from the late 1990s, and with which designer Hedi Slimane eventually became particularly famous at Dior Homme.
2000s: turn of the millennium and breakthrough
Beginning in March 2000, due to the pressures of growing his fashion business, Simons took a year-long sabbatical during which he let his fashion label rest. At the fashion shows held in Paris, Simons has his designs demonstrated exclusively by unprofessional models whom he recruits on the street in the suburbs.
In the fall of 2001, Simons returned to fashion after taking a year off. A new production partnership allowed him to downsize his team and work more closely with his collaborators. The result was the hyper-stylized collection of urban radicals for fall 2001, a departure from the lean, lanky shapes of Simons’ early work. Oversized everything – bomber jackets, hoodies, striped turtlenecks, pants – made up the bulk of the collection, and models were completely hooded and wrapped in garments. The provocative concept of “fashionable terrorists” was also criticized because the collection was released two months before the attack on the Twin Towers in September of the same year.
Nature Aesthetics & Political Art
Simons’ following fall/winter collection called “Virginia Creeper” is also an important milestone in the brand’s history. Legendary garments, which you’ll learn more about later, and the birth of Raf Simons – signature coats find their footing here for the first time. Native to North America, Virginia creeper is an unstoppable, deciduous vine that turns from rich green to a kaleidoscope of reds and reddish browns in the fall. Botany books indicate that creeper is the friendlier, less poisonous cousin of poison ivy.
Raf Simons’ Fall 2002 collection, named after the grapevine, is a friendlier take on nature and environmentalism than his Spring 2003 collection, which is a nod to overconsumption and pollution.
Here is a picture of the 2002 fall collection “Virginia Creeper”:
Mid-2000s: the relaunch Raf Simons
Once absorbed by radical punk icons and slogans, Simons has now shifted his frame of reference to an earlier period: namely, the moment when luxury designs met classic business fashion. With a color palette reduced to black, white and pale grays, he expressed his tailoring in straightforward, luxurious suits and coats that conveyed a Gattaca flair. Then slimness exploded in triple-tied leather pants, funnel-neck tops and huge white coats that floated like angel wings. Simons added these optimistic notes to this collection, putting on a stunning show that felt like a new beginning for him.
Sample look of the spring 2005 collection:
15th anniversary: homage to Martin Margiela
The first fashion show Raf Simons saw was Martin Margiela ‘s third collection in 1991. He was so moved that he cried, and at that moment he decided he wanted to be a fashion designer too. That moment was so defining for him that he called his own 15th anniversary show tonight in Paris a tribute. The tailoring, in which he omitted superfluous items like sleeves, is a Simons trademark. He has already designed collections that focus on white, intense colors and sports, all of which were also both show to see.
But the show was anything but a retrospective. Simons has always challenged the orthodox, deconstructing and reconstructing in the name of the new. Here, the dominant motif was the zipper, huge industrial-looking versions running down the back. Something this big begs to be pulled out, and such an open invitation to unveil seemed to be the core of the collection. His anniversary collection seemed to illuminate the possibilities for creativity that still exist for him as for any other designer. Who knows, maybe there was someone in the audience who felt this show was their own “Eureka!” moment, just as Simons did with Margiela nearly two decades earlier.
Image of the spring collection from 2011:
2016: Modernity meets the past
There is a complicity between the very young and the very old. This is clear to anyone who has watched grandparents with their grandchildren. The fashion industry, obsessed with youth and novelty, is the last place one would expect to find a pointed commentary on this relationship. Nevertheless, Raf Simons captures these very aspects with his spring 2016 collection.
The hoods were the biggest indicator. Half the models walked with plaid heads that obstructed their view so much that at least a couple of them fell off the elevated catwalk. Also, his hoods were cut from the kind of fabric old men would choose for tailored shirts. He was building a connection between past, present and future. It was abstract, to be precise. There was a lot of grandfatherly knitwear, some of which was sewn together to literally extend its life, other pieces shrunk into crop tops for soul boys.
Raf never knew his grandfathers, but he got to know their fashion peculiarities through photos. That was his main inspiration for this collection:
2020: Alien fashion
Raf Simons’ spring collection, called “Solar Youth,” had a transportive, emotional quality because the people he portrayed seemed to no longer live in our world, yet dressed as if they were still holding on to a part of it. Starting with Blade Runner – which, shot in 1982, is set in 2019 – and making other narrative stops along the way, Simons ventured beyond his obsession with misspent youth. That might explain why her clothes were by turns elegant, nostalgic, and vaguely sci-fi.
Beneath immaculate, imposing military-style coats were silver, high-necked undergarments. Self-knit sweaters and scarves were combined with tubular knitwear that wrapped the arms. White boots were immaculate to the extreme, and lush outerwear replaced the stereotype of the space suit. Several blazers and college jackets were hidden under a clear plastic sheet.
Here you can see an example outfit of the fashion show:
Summary of the history of the brand
- 1995: Rebellious 90s: the beginning of Raf Simons
- 2000: Turn of the millennium and breakthrough
- 2002: Nature Aesthetics & Political Art
- 2005: The relaunch Raf Simons
- 2011: 15th Anniversary: Homage to Martin Margiela
- 2016: Modernity meets the past
- 2020: Alien fashion
Raf Simons fashion: trends & garments
What makes the Raf Simons brand so famous? Raf Simons is a fashion designer as the world needs him. For him, fashion is fascinating only when he does not know what comes next. Current designers are too calculating, commercial and predictable. Many take little risk. They stay on the safe side and try to please customers and business instead of surprising people. Simons tries to capture the idea that the future will bring something better, more exciting and beautiful in his work and has created collections over the years that still carry the spirit of the times and the feeling of real fashion. His influence on the fashion scene is also undeniable, whether it be through the world his own brand created or the influence he exerted through his work with other brands. You’ll learn more about these brands later as well.
The most popular pieces of the brand:
When you think of Raf Simons, a different piece of clothing comes to everyone’s mind. Be it the “I <3 NY” sweater from 2017, the Adidas x Raf Simons “Ozweegos” or even older pieces like the Nebraska Creeper Sweater. This diversity of favorite pieces shows the greatness of the brand and its constantly artistic approach to fashion, which affects each person differently and elicits different reactions from them. Below, I show you a pair of Raf Simons’ most popular and influential pieces.
Kanye West in the “Riot” Bomber Jacket
One garment that still cultivates streetwear influence in current times is the “Riot” bomber jacket, from 2000. The Riot bomber is a piece of streetwear history. The garment marks the moment when the Belgian designer began to shape the relationship between streetwear and high-end fashion, years before designers like Virgil Abloh for Off-White and Kim Jones for Louis Vuitton popularized the trend in the mainstream. Today, the jacket is considered the ultimate collector’s item by fashionistas, especially archive enthusiasts. It’s rare to find one in good condition, and when you do, the price is usually between $30,000 and $50,000.
Here you can see said bomber jacket worn by Kanye West:
The Virginia Creeper “Nebraska” Sweater
The goal of Raf Simon’s AW2002 collection was to explore the duality of man and nature, exemplified by the reference to the pest plant “Virginia Creeper” that kills other plants near the environment it inhabits. The “Nebraska” sweater was the gem of this collection. In a mint green colored design detailed with washes and distressing, the sweater accurately captures the basic idea of the collection. Very popular among collectors and hard to find in perfect condition, the sweater sells for $5000 to $100000.
Here the Nebraska Sweater worn by model Luka Sabbath:
The “Consumed” Parachute Bomber Jacket
Today they are often found in museums and almost never in stores. Pockets, straps and suspenders adorn the front and back and can be paired with matching pants, shirts and suit jackets. In a post-9/11 world, Raf Simons foresaw a dystopian future brought on by the uncontrollable spread of American consumerism. In a time when advertising floods all media, including fashion, Simons seeks to show the fallacy of fulfillment through consumption.
The Parachute Bomber Jacket from the HW03 collection:
The “History of My World” Poltergeist Parka
Still streetwear-based and militaristic, the collection was seen as a futuristic approach to his design process. Among the most popular pieces were the “Poltergeist” pieces, which, although not seen on the runway, included several crewneck sweaters and the fishtail parkas with Raf Simons’ famous patchwork patterns. The parka is collaged with graphics from the HW05 season. Poltergeist locations and related quotes, The Cure tour dates, John Cage, Robert Smith, Peter De Potter graphics, song lyrics, the Grim Reaper himself are scattered and patched across the parka.
Here the said parka from the HW05 collection:
Raf Simons Velcro High-top Sneaker
“Raf Simons’ variation of the Nike Vandal, which only launched for a few seasons starting in 2008, has become perhaps his most popular sneaker silhouette due to its rarity and similarity to its swoosh-adorned counterpart. Raf Simons used a variety of uppers, from patent leather to synthetic canvas. Velcro closures are a trend that comes and goes, but when Raf Simons uses them, they are timeless. The upper is made of white premium leather with light Raf Simons branding on a cream, silver or black colored sneaker.
The Raf Simons Velcro Sneaker in black/silver:
Asap Rocky in “I <3 New York” Sweater
The Homage New York Sweater by Raf Simons from 2017, was one of the most important pieces of the brand in recent years. The oversized sweater with a cropped cut influenced many designers, and had a big impact on the closet of many fashion lovers. This black wool sweater with stockinette stitch is a key piece of Raf Simons’ AW17 runway show, and stands out with its white and red “NY” jacquard print inspired by the work of legendary American graphic designer Milton Glaser.
Here is a picture of ASAP Rocky in the NY Sweater:
Collaborations with Raf Simons
Raf Simon’s collaborations are always in high demand, as the designer is very precise with his brand and only collaborates with individual brands that play an important role for him. Thus, he always maintained close contact with Asics and Adidas for his shoes and went to Eastpak for his accessories. Simons says you should always gather a team of creative minds and maintain contact with them to find new ideas and inspiration and to keep pushing fashion forward.
Shoes: Adidas x Raf Simons
The announcement of the line adidas by RAF SIMONS in 2013 did not come as a surprise, considering that Raf Simon loves the Stan Smith by Adidas, a sneaker that has been seen on numerous occasions on the feet of the designer. While keeping their usual references to style, youth, classic patterns and urban style, but also tries to bring radical changes that are clearly different from the original.
These refreshed versions of the Ozweego sneakers were the founders of a new trend that other brands soon followed: chunky shoes, voluminous sneakers, oversized midsoles and numerous overlapping layers.
Here you can see the Raf Simons Ozweegos in different colorways:
The backpacks from Eastpak
The collaboration with Eastpak is also a very long-lasting story. Every year since 2012, the new Raf Simons collection has been filled with Eastpak backpacks. The latest chapter of the collaboration combines the classic design of the backpack with the forward-thinking flair of the Belgian designer.
Here you can see a backpack from the latest “SOLAR YOUTH” collection:
Shoes: Asics x Raf Simons
Even more interesting, but probably not everyone’s cup of tea, is the running shoe from the Raf Simons x Asics collaboration. The sneaker has a black base, neon details and a removable neoprene ankle sleeve. Released in 2009 as part of the Fall/Winter collection, the sneaker was award-winning and, by the standards of the time, was a shoe that didn’t appeal to everyone.
Take a look at the first Asics x Raf Simons collection:
Simon’s work: Dior, Prada & Calvin Klein
Simons has been internationally regarded as an influential fashion designer since at least the late 1990s. In his 20-year career, Simons has established himself with a youth-centric vision that reinterprets pop culture and art through the eye of fashion. His work for his eponymous menswear label landed him jobs as creative director at Jil Sander and Dior, as well as chief creative officer at Calvin Klein.
Jil Sander: women’s and men’s collections
Simons and his team were hired in 2005 by the head of the Prada Group, Patrizio Bertelli, and on July 1 of the same year he took over as creative director of the design team of Prada’s then subsidiary, Jil Sander AG. His first show was presented in Milan in early 2006. Simons had not designed womenswear until his involvement with Jil Sander. After the sale of Jil Sander by Prada, Raf Simons was retained by the subsequent owners of the Jil Sander brand as the designer of the women’s and men’s collections. His designs, some of them avant-garde, were subsequently highly praised by the international press. On February 25, 2012, Raf Simons’ last appearance as creative director of Jil Sander took place at the Milan fashion shows during the presentation of the Jil Sander women’s collection for fall/winter 2012/13, where he bid a tearful farewell to the audience on the catwalk.
Here are two looks from his first women’s collection at Jil Sander:
Dior: A new light for the luxury brand
On April 9, 2012, after long speculation, Simons was appointed by the French fashion company Christian Dior as head designer of women’s collections. Simons had not designed haute couture fashion until then. His first haute couture collection for Dior was presented on July 2, 2012 at the “Centre Culturel Calouste Gulbenkian” in Paris and was highly praised by the press. Under Simons’ direction, sales at Dior increased by 60% from 2011 to 2015. Simons gave up his involvement with Dior at the end of 2015 of his own volition to have more time for himself and his own fashion brand. As part of his retirement, he criticized the immense pressure for commercial reasons on fashion designers in the international fashion industry.
Prêt-à-porter of the women’s collection:
Calvin Klein: The Chief Creative Officer
A year after leaving Dior, there had been rumors that Simons would join Calvin Klein in New York. In early August 2016, the owner of the Calvin Klein brand, the Phillips-Van Heusen Group, confirmed Simons’ appointment as Chief Creative Officer. The previous chief designers had previously left the company. Simons was thus responsible for all collections, product areas and brands at Calvin Klein, both for women and men: Calvin Klein Collection, Calvin Klein Platinum, Calvin Klein (White Label), Calvin Klein Jeans, Calvin Klein Home, Accessories and Cosmetics.
Although Simons’ artistic designs for Calvin Klein were subsequently praised by the trade public, financial success for the company failed to materialize while costs remained very high. In December 2018, PVH announced, by mutual agreement, its immediate separation from Simons.
A look from Calvin Klein’s fall collection:
Creative director at Prada: long-awaited collaboration
The announcement that Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons would be joining forces as co-creative directors of Prada was revealed to a small gathering of fashion journalists via a revealing press conference during Milan Fashion Week in February. Although the announcement came as something of a bang for the industry buck, the merger had been in the works since 2018. Patrizio Bertelli, CEO of Prada Group and husband of Miucca Prada already spoke with Simons right after his departure from Calvin Klein. Moreover, this is not the first time Simons has worked within the Pradasphere. As already mentioned, he worked for 7 years for one of the subsidiary labels Jil Sanders and celebrated there great reputation.
Exemplary look of the work of Raf Simons for Prada:
Stars and celebrities: The enthusiasm for the brand
That stars love Raf Simons and his work in the fashion world is no secret. Many musicians, actors or even athletes are enthusiastic about the art and approach of Simons and often show this enthusiasm in songs or on the red carpet. But which stars love Raf Simons? At his first show for Dior, everyone who is anyone in the fashion business sat in the front row. With Donatella Versace, Christopher Kane, Diane von Fürstenberg, Kris van Assche, Marc Jacobs, Riccardo Tisci and Alber Elbaz, there was a particularly large number of designers in attendance. Rappers and singers also often mention the brand in songs and even write entire songs about the brand. Check out the videos about the brand in our Raf Simons Videos post.
Asap Rocky’s love for Raf Simons
One of the biggest admirers of the brand’s art is US rapper Asap Rocky. Not infrequently, the rapper mentions the designer and his gleichnahmigen fashion brand in interviews and songs, sharing with the public the genius and art behind the brand. Thus, in his debut single “PESO” from 2011, he already rapped “Raf Simons, Rick Owens usually what i’m dressed in!”.
At that time it was something special, especially in New York, where Rocky comes from, to wear designer fashion. In an era characterized by oversized basketball shirts and wide pants, wearing form-fitting, almost feminine clothes was very daring. Again, this sense of fashion eventually became character-building for the rapper and helped him to be one of the most stylish and influential in the scene now. But the love is also mutual. Raf Simons is also a big fan of Asap Rocky and is always grateful to him for representing and popularizing his brand. Often the rapper is seen at fashion shows of Raf Simons.
ASAP Rocky in the Raf Simons x Templa 2019 collection:
Rihanna in runway menswear of the designer
Rihanna is also a long time fan and supporter of the brand and the designer. She is often seen wearing runway pieces by Raf Simons at various events or music videos. Rihanna recently visited the Opening Ceremony store in New York to celebrate the launch of her best friend Mellisa Forde’s hat collection. For the occasion, Rihanna wore the pink pineapple print fisherman hat and styled it with denim shorts, Christian Dior boots and a men’s coat. The graffiti coat was from Raf Simons’ fall/winter 2015 collection and was styled to perfection. When it comes to runway pieces, sometimes you never know how they will look on a person, but Rihanna did it excellently.
Rihanna in said outfit at the store opening:
Kanye West – Raf Simon’s Fanatic
Kanye West is dubbed by many as the go-to guy when it comes to owning the rarest Raf Simons pieces ever. It’s not uncommon for him to wear Raf Simons on his body and try to combine these garments with his own style. As the owner of the “Riot” bomber jacket, which is one of the rarest and most expensive Raf Simons pieces, he already belongs to the top class among Raf Simons fan. Drake also wore this bomber in his music video for “Toosie Slide”, which gave the jackets new attention once again. However, Mr. West also wears Raf Simons pieces in everyday outfits.
Like in this picture with Raf Bomber and Zip-Up Jacket:
Frequently asked questions
Here you can find an overview of the most frequently asked questions on the Internet.
Who design Raf Simons?
- The Raf Simons brand is designed by the eponymous designer Raf Jan Simons.
Where does Raf Simons come from?
- The brand, as well as the designer, comes from Limburg, Belgium.
Where can you buy Raf Simons?
- You can find the brand’s clothes in some selected retail stores in real, as well as online, but there is also a store on the official Raf Simons website. However, if you are looking for the rare, popular pieces of Raf Simons you have to hope on resale sites that you find what you are looking for.
Raf Simons & other designer brands
Due to Simon’s huge reputation and popularity, he has influenced many designer brands in his career. Even brands for which he himself has worked kept the “Raf aesthetic” even after his presence. However, there are also brands in the scene that are not similar to Raf Simons’ style, but rather to the brand’s approach and creative radius. Here you will find other brand often associated with Raf Simons.
Raf Simons videos
The designer’s fashion shows and interviews are very inspiring for any fashion fan or newcomer to the scene of the time. Learn more about the campaigns and fashion shows and take a look inside the mind of raf Simons in our Raf Simons video post. Or listen to the song by Asap Rocky as a tribute to Raf Simons here.
Rick Owens: luxury brand with goth aesthetic
Though not quite style similar but reputation similar is the brand Rick Owens. Designer Rick Owens has also established his own place in the fashion industry and has helped shape and influence modern and contemporary fashion. Similar to Raf in his early days, Rick Owens also plays with influences from the punk, goth and grunge scene, helping this aesthetic gain a new semblance in the fashion scene. Similar to Raf Simons, Rick Owens also plays with body-emphasizing, as well as oversized silhouettes.
Dior: women’s fashion, prêt-à-porter & haute couture
During his time at Dior, Raf Simons designed and created some of his best women’s fashion pieces. He put a new charm on the luxury brand that can still be noticed today. Whether haute couture or prêt-à-porter, the brand’s high-end designs are strongly reminiscent of Raf Simons’ art.
Jil Sander: Simon’s first steps into the world of women’s fashion
When Raf Simons became creative director at Jil Sander in 2005, the overall image of the brand changed completely for the better. He was able to create his first designs for women’s fashion here and perfect them for his later collections. Jil Sander is known since the 1980s for their as clear and timeless, elegant and high-priced fashion for women and since 1997 also for men and for their cosmetics line.
Fashion brands: list
Are you excited about Raf Simons and want to get to know more brands? Then check out our fashion guide here and get to know the top fashion brands in the world. Extravagant haute couture. Sophisticated prêt-à-porter. Fine sportswear and innovative accessories. The world’s most luxurious fashion brands delight millions of people and fashion lovers every year with their exquisite collections. They camp out in front of stores to snag limited edition specials, stand on the streets of Paris during the highly coveted Fashion Week, and sit wide-eyed in front of TVs to watch the latest and hippest runway shows. Here’s the ultimate fashion brand guide.