The Life of Raf

By Jo Phillips

Those who clubbed in London clubbed in the underground scene in London during the mid to late 80s would have been in heaven (not the nightclub) but the feeling of ecstasy (not the drug) last night as Belgium Designer Raf Simons showed his ss23 collection in the gigantic warehouse space that is the Printhouse. The nights spent out and about in parred back deconstructed tailoring alongside flashes of neon bought whoops of joy to all who attended. find out more Here in The Life Of Raf.

In many ways this catwalk show (held later than expected due to the passing of the Queen was reminiscent of the early 1990s when British designers, pooh-poohed the glamour of golden sets and high white catwalks and went into warehouses where their clients would party, of a night, to show off their collection. This was the time when clubland and fashion collided and changed the world of glitz and old fashion glamour forever. A moment where the designers understood it wasn’t ‘ladies that lunched’ who would wear their creations but club kids so why not show where they feel most appropriate for the clothes?

And so was last night in the same keeping but not in a way that looked retro as Simons can never be that but a twist of everything that has made up his career so far was entrenched into every glorious outfit that passed along a bar-come-catwalk.

The tailoring parred back raw hemmed yet perfectly tailored sat with acid bright highlights of yellow, red and pink. Each piece of tailoring seemed as though it had been twisted in the mind of the designer, creating new silhouettes and belts where there shouldn’t be sleeves where maybe there could be and mini-shorted oneses that were repeated in wool and cotton throughout the show on both male and females.

Knee-length boots gave utilitarian military Germanesque darkness whilst scrawled writing on pieces gave a punk aesthetic. The drawing on items were from the estate of artist Philippe Vandenberg.

Much of the collection was about slim layers separates that interplayed between all the models sexy yet sexless. Parred back blocked with the odd spot or brights the core palette was grey, white, brown, black and creams.

Men wore skirts and women wore shorts the interplay of the obsession with gender wiped away without comment. Touches of other colours included sky blue soft pistachio and light custard with fabrics including light tailored wool, mesh, fine gauze knitwear, cotton and leather.

There was oversized but not in the jumper form but much more a sort of restrained type. An oversized sleeveless jacket on a woman that was elegant in its shape, not full and each but large without being voluminous.

T-shirts and shirts were shaped with thin belts and layered over bright leggings. Something rather radical yet cut back, minimal yet speaking loudly and clearly. The hint of the era of a newly free east Germany, of political freedoms or lack of, hung somewhere in the air. Alongside the dark space of the warehouse and the pumping drilling sound of the music played… yet

Yet don’t think this was all club-kid streetwear it was nothing of the sort. Catch a true moment with a piece of tailoring and note the long line pencil skirts, chic as it ever was in the early 1950s couture shows, dresses with precise cutting elegant enough to belong to a salon presentation of the best-dressed ladies from a bye-gone era when the pattern cutting was key and glamour was everything. Yet every piece was unassumingly perfect and easy and utterly desirable.

And that is ultimately what this show was made up of and why it was a great event in the world of fashion, especially in London. A moment when you saw in a flash, the work of many years coalesce into a set of outfits that summed up everything that has gone before. A moment of vital life affirming creativity when true skill, understanding of craft, and pure raging talent met in a dusty dirty warehouse in South East London. Where the much-lost highly prized honoured skills of fashion meet with craft and creativity which culminated in Belgium’s rock and roll.

Long live London clubland, long live democracy, and long live the freedom to be whoever you want to be because all of that was seen and loved in the show last night

The pieces from the Spring/Summer 2023 collection featuring the works of Philippe Vandenberg will be co-labelled RAF SIMONS / PHILIPPE VANDENBERG

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