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Tracing Raf Simons’ love for teenage riot and rock and roll

Music has always been integral to the designer’s craft – here we look at work created at the turn of the century inspired by the bands he loves

As the sound of Angelo Badalamenti’s voice – documenting his time spent creating the soundtrack for Twin Peaks – echoed through the show space, Raf Simons’ audience were presented with a list of references for his AW16 “Nightmares and Dreams” collection. David Lynch, Cindy Sherman, American Youth, Elm Street and Martin Margiela (the first show Simons ever attended, while interning for Walter Van Beirendonck) were all present on the list, along with four of his own collections: “Riot, Riot, Riot”, “Woe Onto Those Who Spit On The Fear Generation...”, “Virginia Creeper” and “Waves”.

Whilst the audio created a nightmarish Lynchian setting, the collection played out as a series of tent-like Puffa jackets, cropped drainpipe trousers and oversized sweaters, frayed at the edges, not unlike those seen in Simons’ AW02 “Virginia Creeper” collection. If you’re familiar with Simons’ book The Fourth Sex: Adolescent Extremes, the Twin Peaks reference won’t have come as a surprise, leaving the voiceover in good company amongst Simons’ 21-year strong archive of show soundtracks, almost always inspired by music genres and youth culture.

Growing up as an outsider looking in on the 80s Belgian punk scene, Simons spent his teenage years obsessively stitching band patches onto his belongings. “It had nothing to do with fashion, only with music. Dark, black, Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk,” Simons told Alexander Fury of his first connection with clothing. It goes without saying that music is integral to Simons’ craft. From AW01’s “Riot, Riot, Riot” collection (based on the disappearance of the Manic Street Preachers’ Richey Edwards), to SS00’s Gabba-meets-MENSA-students mash-up and AW98’s tribute to Kraftwerk, here we revisit some of the most significant art-meets-music back pages from the Raf Simons archive.


Having launched his eponymous label in 1995, AW97 saw Simons apply his outsider theory to fashion for his first ever show in Paris. Appropriating what he knew – adolescent, New Wave schoolboys, in uniform – the soundtrack for the show included The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight”, taken from their 1995 album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Known for their cathartic lyrics, while some perceived “Tonight, Tonight” to be a love song, others have speculated that Billy Corgan wrote the track to offload memories of an abusive childhood. Simons later used the song for both his SS11 15 year anniversary show and the AW12 Jil Sander womenswear show, his last as creative director for the house before departing for Dior.


A year later, Simons looked to German synth-pop pioneers Kraftwerk for inspiration and even went as far as casting members of the band as models. Riffing off the cover for the group’s 1978 album Man Machine designed by German artist Emil Schult, Simons turned Kraftwerk’s anti-fashion statement into a fashion statement by pairing crimson shirts with skinny black ties, paying homage to Ralf Hütter, Florian Schneider, Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür. Meanwhile, within the setting of the Moulin Rouge, models with their faces spider-webbed with black ink wore a mélange of dark tailoring, including Simons’ first foray into capes, accompanied by the sound of Kraftwerk’s 1974 hit “Autobahn”.


Taking place outside of the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie in Paris in front of a giant mirrored ball, Simons’ SS99 “Kinetic Youth” show referenced both architecture and the kinetic objects of childhood. The accompanying soundtrack was a medley of Bowie songs (“Space Oddity”, “Life on Mars” and “Heroes”), before finishing with Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”, during which an army of over 50 street-cast boys stomped along the outdoor runway in baggy Bauhaus colours and polo necks branded with an “R”. Simons’ most recent Bowie tribute came in the shape of his 2015 couture collection for Dior, following which the designer referred to the icon as a “couturier” based on his ability to create work of the “highest musical level of craft”.


Simons was inspired by both smart MENSA students (“Summa Cum Laude” translates to “With the highest honour”) and gabber (a youth movement from Belgium and Holland that defined a hardcore techno scene) for SS00. Black military surplus Pyramid MA-1 jackets with an orange lining were paired with high-waisted trousers, appropriating the dress code of the pummeling subgenre, whilst graphic block-coloured vests provided essential club wear for those wanting to dance to gabber.


The unresolved disappearance of former Manic Street Preachers band member, Richey Edwards provided the reference point for Simons’ AW01 “Riot, Riot, Riot” collection. Plastering patches fabricated from printed news ephemera onto camouflage quilted bomber jackets, Simons paid his respects to the guitarist who vanished in 1995, before being presumed dead in 2008. “Have you seen Richey?” read the South Wales Police press release on the back of a bomber; whilst an image of Edwards with the words “4 REAL” carved on his arm – his response when NME’s Steve Lamacq questioned his commitment to his art – was a poignant reminder of the troubled youth.


''Woe Onto Those Who Spit On The Fear Generation...The Wind Will Blow It Back” could well be Simons’ most subversive show to date. At a time of political unrest and religious paranoia following the 9/11 attacks, Simons sent barefoot urban guerrillas masked by balaclavas down the runway, some carrying smoke grenades, in an almost entirely red, white and black colour palette. Long sleeved tees and oversized sweatshirts read "Kollaps" and "American Recycling", whilst the words "Vous ne Pouvez Plus Ignorer" framed a motif of a hand grenade (translation: "You Can't Ignore Me Anymore").


Having been granted access to Factory Records graphic designer Peter Saville's archive of iconic band graphics, Simons’ AW03 “Closer” collection saw seminal album artwork including New Order’s Power, Corruption and Lies become the subject of a series of fishtail parka coats, four of which were sold for over £13,000 on Grailed last month. Saville’s seminal album artwork for Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures later appeared painted on the back of a leather jacket in Simons’ AW04 collection.