Every creative act starts with a memory. Artists thrive on the recalled image, feeling, taste, scent. If they're not embracing memory, they're consciously reacting against it. But why bother? There is no escape from the past. It's a beautiful thing, and Raf Simons proved that tonight. On the back of most of the coats and jackets in his collection were sailor collars collaged with fragments of his personal history—the actual and the imagined. "Like mood boards you'd pin your favorite images to," he said. Friends, family, a fluffy kitty, a roller coaster, Mt. Fuji painted by Hokusai, a koi pond, a shark, a swimmer in peril, an astronaut it seemed furiously random until Simons parsed the images.
Those old photos were of his parents courting fifty-five years ago. The roller coaster, the one he rode with his friends Olivier Rizzo and Willy Vanderperre decades ago. The Japanese influence was his thank-you to the first retailers who ever supported him. The shark was Jaws and Simons' love of horror movies; the swimmer in peril was danger; the astronaut was isolation surely you've composed a psychological profile by now. In the middle of it all, an old passport photo, Simons in a Superman T-shirt. That shirt was part of Rizzo's graduate collection from Antwerp's Royal Academy of Fine Arts, the Central Saint Martins in this story. As Rizzo was telling the tale backstage, Simons appeared with the very same T-shirt and gave it back to him, twenty-five years later. Cue tears.
It was that kind of night. The febrile atmosphere was established by the soundtrack—Mica Levi's ravishingly ominous music for Jonathan Glazer's film Under the Skin—and the lighting, red for danger, green for nature. Combined, they created the white light that, according to show producer Thierry Dreyfus, illuminated horror movies in the seventies. It had a dislocating effect, throwing much of the presentation into shadow, so the boys in their dark suits looked like Men in Black, moving eerily through the throng. Oh, yes, forgot to mention, the audience was standing, because, said Simons, "you perceive things differently when you're upright."
As far as he was concerned, what he did was the only possible reaction to the experience of working with artist Sterling Ruby on the Fall collection. That was such a sweet surrender that Simons said, "I could only go deep into myself to find another challenge." He's a supremely organized individual, but maybe Ruby left him with an appetite for chaos. "It's interesting to let go," he agreed.
Mr. and Mrs. Simons, whose courtship had been incorporated into their son's collection, were backstage for the whole show, the first time they'd actually experienced the mechanics of Raf's profession. His mom was visibly moved. His dad wanted to get back to watching soccer. France playing in the World Cup. Memories are made of this.