Raf Simons Brings Drugs to the Forefront with “Youth in Motion”

As I walked into the setting of Raf Simons“Youth In Motion” – the title of his fall collection – the first things that caught my attention were the rich scents of fruit, chocolate, and wine, which was confusing considering I had come to attend a fashion show. A minute and a few steps later, it all made a lot more sense. As a backdrop to his runway, the Belgian designer had set up his own rendition of a Flemish still-life painting. The stage, as if ready for a court to feast on, was covered in piles of bread, fruits and vegetables, cold cuts, cheeses, waffles, and fist-sized chunks of chocolate – all framed by half-emptied bottles and half-poured glasses of red wine, along with exquisite floral arrangements.

RAF SIMONS FW18 show in New York. Photo by NOWFASHION.

To complete this sensorial experience – as the staff encouraged the audience to pick up and eat the food – guests were welcomed with Baroque music, evoking a Renaissance-like composition played in lush strings, a perfect complement to the bacchanal feel of the room.

According to Simons, “Youth in motion implies movement – across space and time, and between inner and external realities – and draws freely from the lexicons of art, cinema, literature, music, the counter culture, and the ‘attitude’ of couture.” And escort the audience though “space and time” he did. Suddenly, shortly after the scheduled start time, the mood transitioned into a much more club-like setting. The baroque music slowly faded away, making way for the sounds of progressive pounding techno, as the lights turned from warm white spots to green and red strobes. The models began their figure eight walk in and around the piles of food, and so the show began.

Although it might be unsuitable to already compare his shows (this is his third on American soil), it seems, however, relevant to note that Simons has been creating a story telling style and ongoing dialog of sorts that seem to unify his work, even when acting as Calvin Klein’s chief creative officer. This is not to say there is continuum or overlap, but that by often using his staging and his collections to present themes that touch on (and possibly address) contemporary culture and the world we live in, he has created a unique narrative that connects his shows together. The subject matter and the vibe might be different from one show to another, but the overarching concern is often generational and about the need for change.

RAF SIMONS FW18 show in New York. Photo by NOWFASHION.

If his highly anticipated ready-to-wear Fall show for Calvin Klein was imbued with a sense of hope and lightness as it celebrated individuality and inclusivity during a politically charged season, this was not necessarily the case this time around. Given his inspiration for this season – the cult film “Christiane F.”, which was directed by German director Uli Edel and portrayed the drug scene in Berlin in the 1970s – a certain gloominess and gravity could be felt this time around. “Christiane F. remains a cautionary tale, one that unashamedly and unapologetically depicts the realities of drug use and addiction,” read the show notes. “Simons, like many Europeans of his generation, was exposed to the harrowing world of Christiane F. in high school, where the film and the book were discussed as a part of the curriculum.” In context, the show could be interpreted as a dramatic and metaphorical statement about drugs (and more specifically, heroin) and their destructive impact on youth; his own but also today’s.

Much like in his previous two shows, both the stage and the collection were messages unto themselves, providing both more obvious and accessible thematic queues, but also more subtle ones. Whereas the designer referenced narcotics more blatantly by printing the word “DRUGS” in large block letters on sliced open poncho-like hoodies, or by featuring photos of a strung out Christiane F. (and others of the film’s characters) on pants, on the front of shirts, and the back of coats; the approach was more subtle when decorating scarves and knee pads with patches that featured the terms “LSD,” “GHB,” and “XTC.”

Arguably, the stage embodied this sense of layered meaning and dichotomy as well. As an artistic movement, the Baroque, which Simons’ runway decoration referenced, was a means to counter simplicity and austerity in architecture, art, and music. Yet, historically, it has come to be regarded as opulent, over the top, and occasionally unrefined. Not unlike what is described as a drug induced “high,” the Baroque style used grandeur contrast in order to achieve a sense of awe. Both were used to intensify life and make it more interesting and vivid.

The collection itself represented these layers of meaning. While overall thematic dimness was deliberately visible in the messages, the bright palette of colors – composed of yellows, reds, and tangerine oranges – brought along an understated mood upswing. The overall feel of the collection might have been somewhat of a clear wink to the 70s or 80s – with plaids, boots that looked half-military and half-Wellington, the use of fabrics such as satin, or even the manner in which the models’ hair was dyed – but it remained discreetly anchored in modern times, with the inclusion of techy wear and the display of futuristic silhouettes – like the opening look, a boxy coat set over a deconstructed turtleneck with draping side panels and ultra-fitted cargo pants.

RAF SIMONS FW18 show in New York. Photo by NOWFASHION.

While the collection might have initially felt minimal and playful (including fetish-like shiny vinyl gloves!) as the models began to walk, a closer look revealed the sophistication Simons is known for, including stunning and clever experimentations of deconstruction, exemplified by false sweater fronts suspended from turtlenecks and layered over tailored pieces.

It’s unlikely that all attendees immediately made up their mind about the collection, or to what extent they appreciated the show, but given the amount of people nodding their heads to the music, sipping on wine, and snapping away, it’s likely most of them enjoyed it. But that’s Raf Simons for you: if he doesn’t manage to pull you into a deeper level, he’ll definitely still get you on that surface one.  


See the full Raf Simons FW18 collection here.