Raf Simons says he used to be very critical of menswear, but now he finds himself really appreciating the work of his peers, even buying some of it. Except, he adds, it just doesn't give him any energy. For that, he'd have to look to the collection he showed tonight, which celebrated, in his own words, "change, energy, freedom, protection." That last one came from the feeling Raf gets every few years that it's time to return to the youth-cult well that has refreshed him from the very beginning of his career. The boys whose idealism has shaped his fashion sensibility make him feel protective. And, with this particular collection, they've revived his own idealism after a trying period in his business. Like the show's title—Run Fall Run—implied, you run, you fall, you get up, you keep going. And keeping going had, Raf claimed, freed him.
What he showed certainly had reminders of the time before he was "Raf Simons." Like the schoolboy-ness of the shorts, or the gawkiness of the models in clothes whose outsize proportions suggested something that could be grown into. It was also there in the veils of hair trailing across faces, which reminded hairdresser Guido Palau of work he did with Raf more than a decade ago. Still, the collection was an entirely contemporary manifesto, matching the approachable style of the street (the oversize outerwear, for instance, or the ombré sweatshirts) with the couture influence that Raf has been exploring for a while, especially in his work for Jil Sander.
The match was clearest in the headgear—could be a couture cloche, could be a hip-hop cap—but it was most radical in its approach to the suit, the item that defines the Fall 2012 season. It wasn't just that Raf showed all his jackets with a new cut of shorts, slim in the leg, more generous around the waist. It was also the drop-shouldered, swing-backed generosity of the jacket cut. To appreciate just how much of a departure this was from current gentlemenswear orthodoxy, simply look at any other collection shown in Milan or Paris over the past week. Raf pointed out that his selling collection includes many more conventional options (long pants, for one), but for the show, he felt it was essential that he push his brand to a more extreme and personal point.
Taking just one of the most graphic pieces as an example—a double-breasted teddy-bear coat which turned to reveal a bright yellow animal-hide pattern dyed into its back—Raf said he'd always been fascinated by dyed hair. Why do people do that? he wondered. It had become an unlikely symbol of change for him. So here it was in a collection that promised nothing but. Speaking of which, a technical malfunction before the show started meant the audience learned how many men it takes to change a lightbulb at a Raf Simons show.