Pin It
raf simons aw18 new york menswear fashion week
Raf Simons AW18Photography J’Dee Allin

Last night’s Raf Simons show was all about drugs

Entitled ‘Youth In Motion’, the AW18 collection referenced teen addict Christiane F, the 1980 play ‘Drugs’ as well as revisiting silhouettes from his archive

For his third show in New YorkRaf Simons debuted a collection dubbed “Youth In Motion.” It’s baffling to consider the sober reality that 23 years on, Simons is menswear’s eminent elder statesman. Having mined subcultures for their grim messaging, decayed urban silhouettes, and anti-authoritarian, after-dark declinations into drug-fueled epiphanies, he predicted early on the type of sinister escapism that subsequent generations of disaffected young people would gravitate toward. Who could have predicted 15 years ago that today’s hip hop icons would find themselves under the spell of Ian Curtis, Peter De Potter, and Uli Edel?

Last night, Raf revisited seminal graphics and silhouettes from his own archives, with some unforeseen, purely elegant twists. Here is everything you need to know.


To present his AW18 collection, Simons decorated a large event space on West 37th Street in the style of an opulent Flemish still life. On a massive central stage, hoisted at waist level, models leisurely strolled in loops between stacked loaves of bread, mounds of grapes, abundant lemons peeled into twists, half empty bottles of red wine, salami sausages and enormous floral bouquets. The mise-en-scène was meant to echo the salons of mid-century couture houses, a current that ran through the collection: looks came stamped with numbers, dramatic duchesse silks made up coat linings and layered pants, and collars and knits sat askew to resemble elegant capes with a collegiate twist. Strobing lasers and thundering industrial acid house gave the classical tableaux a 90s Berlin halo.


In a nod to past collections and projects – notably, AW01’s Riot Riot Riot! collection and the 2003 text The Fourth Sex: Adolescent Extremes – Simons brought the spectre of Christiane F. back to the fold. Uli Edel’s 1981 film (based on the book Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo) has loomed large over the visions of Raf Simons since he saw it as a young teenager living in Belgium. Telling the story of a 13-year-old’s descent into LSD use and heroin addiction in 1970s Berlin, the film is a cautionary tale for at-risk youth, a visceral and spellbinding world of nightclubs and David Bowie music that has entranced artists for decades. The characters of Christiane and her beloved hustler friend Detlef came blown up and applied stiffly to the backs of coats, fronts of shirts, and on pant patches.


To lighten the mood, Simons likewise invoked Cookie Mueller and Glenn O’Brien’s tragicomic play from the 1980s, Drugs, by printing the cover of its 2016 reprint by The Kingsboro Press & For The Common Good throughout the collection. That cover design, prosaic and dopey in yellow and orange, served as a template for deadpan, color-coded patches listing drugs such as LSD, GHB, and 2C-B across sleeves and shins, giving the spiral of addiction a clinical anchor that was equal parts disturbing and funny. Wearing splatter-proof polished rubber boots and patent leather gloves under suit sleeves, the models evoked lab workers via American Psycho, giving the drug references a perverse edge that blurred into the collection’s couture-world elegance.


Continuing to tweak (no pun intended) the oversize silhouettes that have become his signature – starting with the AW02 Virginia Creeper collection and revived and evolving from AW17 to now – Simons gleefully injected classic garments with playfully large proportions, from dippy, gaping coat pockets to bulky mirrored bracelets (wristwatches?), turtleneck knits with hanging appendages, interior coat pockets that could hold a small library, bulky sleeves scrunched up the arms, collars within collars, blown-up argyle prints, and cold weather Mickey Mouse boots similar to the ones from his collection with Sterling Ruby for AW14. The fratboy knits, strictly tailored plaid suits, and refined finishes gave a measure of modern swish to the delinquent acid flashbacks that recalled Simons’s earliest work. It was that knowing touch of splendor that elevated the collection to something divine.


As evocative and compelling as drug references can be, part of being fashion’s elder statesman means demonstrating conscience. In the show notes sent right after the presentation, Simons specifies that some proceeds from the sales of the Youth In Motion collection will be donated to organisations that support addiction recovery. Likewise, food from the presentation is going to City Harvest. According to the release:

“Ultimately, ‘Youth In Motion’ seeks to neither glorify nor condone the culture(s) of drugs; rather Simons seeks instead to consider the persistent, almost ubiquitous presence of narcotics (prescribed or otherwise) within our society and acknowledge our often conflicted relationships with them; in turn opening up a more nuanced dialogue around the implications for a society where addiction and the causes of addiction remain largely taboo subjects, with – as both Christiane F. and the current opioid crisis demonstrate – often untold human consequences.”