Raf Simons Gets It Right With New York Men's Fashion Week Debut
A modernist take on American classics, the designer's debut signature collection is sure to thrill celebs and the fashion industry alike.
Raf Simons is adjusting nicely to life in Manhattan, if all the "I [heart] New York" sweaters in his fall 2017 collection are any indication. Simons has embraced his move to New York as he takes on the mantel of creative director for Calvin Klein, and included in that was his decision to shift the showing of his signature collection from Paris to his new home.
The announcement instantly elevated Simons’ show at Chelsea’s Gagosian Gallery on Wednesday evening to the most hotly anticipated event of New York Fashion Week: Men’s. (The second-most eagerly awaited show this month? That would be Simons’ debut of his men’s and women’s collections for Calvin Klein, a dual presentation set for Friday, Feb. 9.) Unsurprisingly for those who are passionate fans of the Belgian designer, Simons fulfilled his promise Wednesday evening, sending out a cunning mix of knits and polished, tailored pieces that communicated his minimalist-meets-modernist view of the world.
Fellow designers Narciso Rodriguez, Joseph Altuzarra and Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez sat on the front row in a nice moment of fraternity to welcome Simons to New York. “It breaks the rules a little that we are an industry based on a velvet-rope society when you see other designers celebrating his talent in that manner,” said Neiman Marcus fashion director Ken Downing, an admitted “huge fan” of Simons. “It’s a big moment, for fashion and for New York. Raf has enormous fans around the world; his collections for Jil Sander were always amazing, and my Dior customers loved his work as well. We’re expecting Raf to enjoy a very pivotal moment in New York, and that bodes well for American fashion.”
Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka, Leelee Sobieski, and A$AP Rocky were all on the front row, though Harris and Burtka were wondering if Simons might be a bit fashion-forward for their taste. “We’re fairly new to him and his fashion, but we like the artistic chances that he takes,” Burtka said.
“It’s not what we’re used to wearing, so there’s something kind of exciting and powerful about creating a whole new look,” Harris agreed. “I’m more interested in seeing where he thinks fashion is going, because then I can adjust in his wake. I tend to be more of a suit-on-the-red-carpet kind of guy, so when I’m going casual and looking at pieces that are trendy or younger, I would be interested in seeing what Raf thinks is strong right now.”
Harris and Burtka surely loved the polished topcoats that dominated the collection in shades of ivory, camel and a beautiful black satin that immediately conjured thoughts that the well-dressed man should own such a piece for evening. (Seriously, all of Simons topcoats immediately vaulted to the top of every stylish guy’s must list for fall; pre-order yours now.) Simons cinched many of the looks with duct tape emblazoned with statements like “Walk With Me” and “Youth Project,” a nice styling trick to add a bit of edge to his runway, but one that ultimately also allowed the silhouette to vary, as jackets and more utilitarian shirts seemed boxy and oversized by comparison.
Those loose, bulky “New York” sweaters — a nod to the iconic “I Love New York” tourism campaign that debuted in 1977 — as well as knit “arm warmers” worn over the topcoats were a shout out to his recently announced partnership with The Woolmark Company, which is producing the Merino wool seen throughout Simons’ fall collection. Less successful was a small grouping of vests worn over bare chests, an idea that felt a little Chippendales-esque, but that easily could be chalked up to another styling trick, especially as the layering was so artful throughout the rest of the collection.
“He’s not a traditional fashion designer,” Downing said. “He comes from the worlds of architecture and art, and I like the diversity he brings to clothes.” Prior to the show, Downing acknowledged that he had not seen a preview, but he had formulated a theory about Simons’ signature collection versus the work he will soon debut for Calvin Klein. “In many ways this collection could be his version of haute couture to what we’re going to be seeing at Calvin. He brings a signature and a very specific idea to his work; in a very cerebral sort of way, I think we’re going to see a little nod of what’s to come.”
Backstage after the show, Simons was surrounded by a virtual crush of well-wishers as he wore the easy smile of a guy who seems not at all worried about another, larger show in just nine days. Perhaps that’s because the welcome he’s received has been so thorough and enthusiastic. Simons might heart New York, as those sweaters attest, but make no mistake: New York hearts Raf Simons right back.