“I think it’s interesting that it’s very mixed-up,” Raf Simons was saying after a show where every second outfit had something other to say. “You can perceive it in different ways. And that’s been especially my aim in the last couple of years. I don’t want it to be perceived only in one way anymore.” In other words, read what you would into the collection Simons showed tonight. He’d give it all to you. Yes, there was a strong dandy element in spare, slightly A-line coats with an angular tie at the throat. Yes, that was Puss ‘n’ Boots in the cartoon graphic of a jacquard, because Simons said he’d become fascinated by the psychology of cartoon characters like Puss, indomitable in the face of endless uncontrollable setbacks. (Wile E. Coyote also won Raf’s heart.) Yes, there were echoes of early-seventies Bowie-ness in fitted knit vests over baggy trousers. And, for those with a fashion memory, that was Simons’ own past, the Kinetic Youth show of Spring/Summer 1999 to be exact, circling back in the colors—aubergine, beige, yellow, pink, blue—and the proportions.
But the key that truly unlocked the collection might have been the recurring graphic motif of an abstract head framed by a question mark. (It looked a bit like the PBS logo.) “I’ve been questioning the whole idea of what is men’s fashion now, where I would want it to go,” Simons said. First on his hit list was a redefinition of silhouette. “The defined silhouette over the last six or seven years has been very Balenciaga-inspired for everyone, myself included. It’s become a garderobe [a wardrobe] and it doesn’t feel like high fashion that says something to me personally.” Raf’s solution? A shift in volume, away from slim pants and fitted blazers, and a move away from the notion of matching, toward something looser and less controlled, trouser hems touching the floor, sleeves stripped away. Then there were the shirt-cuffs unbuttoned, the collars pointing skyward, the sleeves hastily shoved up. OK, those last flourishes were stylist flimflam, but it wasn’t hard to get the picture. And that picture’s title? Kinetic Youth Returns.
The only other designer asking the questions that Simons asks in the way he asks them is Miuccia Prada, and there were discernible parallels with her work in the collection that he showed tonight. “No bonding, no neoprene, no futurist, just wool and cotton,” he said of his fabrics. Into that, read this: you can go back to go forward. Look at Raf himself. We should all be so happy.