Raf Simons was a designer before his job at Jil Sander. A statement that would unfortunately seem a shock for some, but he was actually a darn good designer long before his rather uninspired menswear at Jil (the womenswear is another matter, I rather liked his womenswear at Jil). In fact from this, his first collection, to the early half of (what out of convenience I call) the noughties, Raf Simons' eponymous label crafted a new and exciting path for menswear. In considering how fashion history will record the evolution of menswear I have often thought of Raf and Hedi as having in some ways been the next step after the work of Jil, Helmut and Calvin. Armani made suits comfortable and casual for the every man in the '80s; Jil and Helmut slimmed them down, cleaned them up, and subverted their codes in the '90s; Raf and Hedi made them cool for the youth at the turn of the century.
Hedi's work at Yves Saint Laurent, his early work at Dior Homme, along with Raf's work at his own line, all demonstrated a new approach to suiting and the re-appropriation of high fashion for a determinedly youth market. This was not fashion designed after the mature man (Armani), nor after the working man who partied through the night (Helmut), but after the teens, the rebellious, the young rockers. Indeed Raf and Hedi brought youth subculture (music scenes in particular) into the arena of fashion to an extent that even Helmut, whilst working with Melanie Ward, did not manage. I suppose it is only with the luxury of hindsight, but I feel that this debut collection nicely demonstrates the important elements that Raf would later develop to such success. Indeed his collections as of late have seemed to fall back on his first few collections to a rather tiresome extent, entirely missing the opportunity to build upon the subversive and influential elements he would later develop in collections such as May The Circle Be Unbroken.
Whether it is a young man in a skinny suit, or a young man with an oversized hoodie paired with skinny jeans, the shadow of Raf is hard to ignore. I just wish he would take his focus back to Raf Simons and make a collection half as good as we know he has (...had?) the ability to make.