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Interview: Raf Simons

In a rare interview after his show, Raf talks interzones, gender and "taking or leaving it"

The term ‘interzone’ is difficult to define. It is a phrase that has become increasingly associated with the work of Raf Simons and one that suggests his work exists within a realm that goes beyond any one specific thing – certainly beyond the confines of fashion.

Yesterday, this term felt more appropriate than ever. Raf was intent on creating a moment, showcasing his work thirty-minutes outside of Paris at the Gagosian Gallery, surrounded by the work of artists Alexander Calder and Jean Prouvé. “All I can say about tonight, is that it was an environment that connects very much to a dream scenario for me,” he explained after the show – and it was. The collection resonated with these two artists, Raf exploring the industrialisation of society through branded garments – much like the work of Prouvé, but also exploring the freedom of Calder’s kinetic sculptures.

In a rare interview after his show, Raf talks interzones, why he is continuously attracted to things he can’t define and why we can “take it or leave it”. 

Dazed Digital: A few weeks ago I was talking to Peter Saville about your work and something that came up again and again was this idea of ‘the interzone’. It’s a term that has always been heavily associated with your work and I’m interested to find out how you define the term ‘interzone’?

Raf Simons: I can’t define it. I’ve been trying to find out for two decades now and I find myself ending up in interzones without knowing how to define it but it’s something that attracts me very much. We used to create that kind of space and moment in relation to the world that we are expressing through clothes very much in the early days and I think lately we feel very much the desire to do that again. We actually brought ourselves out of Paris back into an environment that relates to the environment we used to show in back in the days which was always in the film studios, doing a certain kind of cinematography but also to create a specific moment in time that is quite connected to the idea of the interzone when you think about audience, the boys, the world we create with us, the art process, the moment that is going to be exposed. I cannot give a definition of it. I think my interaction is to not be able to define it. I’m usually very attracted to things that I can’t define. If something’s too clear, it’s very often not inspiring to me anymore.

All I can say about tonight is it was an environment that connects very much to a dream scenario for me. As you know I am an industrial designer graduate and I only came to fashion later. Being able to show in relation to the work of Jean Prouvé, and Alexander Calder is a very emotional thing for me because I admired both the architect and the artist very much already from a very young age. I think that without even knowing, that may be the interzone, because when I approached Larry Gagosian to see if there was the possibility to show in this space there was no show yet defined, so we didn’t know. So we kept on talking until we got the information about who was showing here which was already slowly collating to what we would do as a collection and I also wanted to relate it even more to that collection.

We were also thinking about product and industrialisation of how our lives begin and our society and everything we use, everything we swallow, like food and drinks and products and how it’s getting more and more man-made and more and more artificial and we were at the same time thinking about freedom and thinking about what’s the ultimate contrast to that, what’s the interesting juxtaposition with that. So we started thinking about babies and children and teenagers, you know where everything seems to be so much more natural. The most natural thing is the baby of course, it’s just there and it’s alive and there was nothing, no clothes, there was nothing. I think Jean Prouvé very much represents the industrial, it’s  about the product and the manufactured product. Calder was expressing so much freedom and movement and the freedom of form and the movement of shape in space or in non-space. I think Calder's is for me almost the ultimate non-space art or interzone art, because it’s a sculpture, but when you think sculpture you usually think it stands. But it doesn’t so it’s kind of interzone-y and very graphic also at the same time, and so soft and hard and I think we were out for that kind of language.

Also, at the moment we are - because I think fashion moves in waves - enjoying fashion, very much. I’m enjoying men very much, the position at Dior, it’s such a contrast you know and such a beauty also to be able to have the possibility to express in such a major historical context in Dior for women. On the other hand we’re expressing ourselves or I’m expressing myself with my team in an environment which is free and still so young as a brand. We’ve been around for two decades but still I feel like it’s the brand’s teenager and I like to keep it like that, so we are in a very positive mood. I think we wanted to show a lot of energy tonight and freedom and we want to push the men’s a little bit because I - again not from a critical position - but I see there is a lot of behaviour in men’s fashion, which is systematic. It’s a lot about all these kind of clothes that can be easily combined with each other and it's less and less, I think, about making a fashion statement. I find that rather surprising at the moment when so many people, and so many young people, are surrounding fashion and getting more and more interested. I’d prefer to come from out of our world to push them or give them all the possibility.

We are a grown up brand on the one hand - we have a show room where you can of course, get your classic suit and tie - but on the other hand, I think in terms of showing, in terms of having a dialogue about fashion, we want to have the dialogue and I think there are a lot of things happening right now, in fashion in general and that is why it’s a good moment to start a dialogue. There’s a new generation coming in moving away from Paris. I also want to say you can move away from Paris if you want. Maybe it needs us to, so people also dare to do it, but even for me, I started to feel obliged to show clothes on the previous show. When you have shows there are eight shows in a day and there is a show before you,  you feel obliged to show right after that show, in a maximum of ten minutes after that show space. Already that limited me in the ticketing process because there was no space that we liked. Only this historical space or only this trashy space. It was ‘let’s do our thing, let’s do what we need to do to express what we want to say this season’. Originally I was even thinking of just going out and createing a new kind of energy. In the beginning it was scary but on the other hand, I feel it was something that can also excite the audience as much as they can be upset about it when they need to spend more time getting to a show. It’s also not that automatically we will do it every season. Maybe next season I will find an environment in Paris that is perfect for the collection but for this situation it needed to be shown in another context.

DD: I also felt there was this kind of gender aspect this season. The collection felt almost genderless and I don’t know whether that was a concern of yours?

Raf Simons: I think it has always been hanging around our brand a bit. It’s a brand that pushes fashion forward and that means that automatically there is more experiment to it. Although we are still defined really as 100 per cent Raf Simons men’s only, we have women clients, women buying and wearing our clothes which is very exciting for me. I don’t feel at this moment in time to want to specifically design something for women because I find it fascinating to see the fact that women want to buy things that they see on men. I think that’s also an evolution. I think it goes in two directions and for the rest I can only say it’s a very natural way for us to behave. It’s not that we over think - it’s very natural. We feel it’s almost a party mood. We’re enjoying it and we show electricity and show energy and, at the same time, show nature.

All the boys were natural tonight. There was nobody who did the hair for them. We showed them as they come so it was very much about the way of dressing, the way of choosing the clothes as a way to express yourself. It was not a camouflage in terms of how you can create yourself with hair or product or styling. You think about the collection and that is what is interesting right now. You can just take it or leave it but hopefully take it.