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Raf Simons: short-lived brilliance

Raf Simons' recent departure from Calvin Klein raises questions about his history of short-term affairs with fashion houses

In recent years, Raf Simons has shown both his versatility and transience.

It was announced in December 2018 that Calvin Klein and Simons were ‘amicably parting ways,’ after almost two years working with the brand as Chief Creative Officer.

The Belgian designer had another successful but short-lived career as creative director at Dior between 2012-2015. The iconic 2014 documentary Dior & I follows his process during his first collections as the creative director. Yet his parting from the LVMH family was somewhat more amicable than what has occurred at Calvin Klein, with Simons offering no further comment upon leaving the brand.

His appointment at Calvin Klein brought much excitement as Simons’ European influences entered the classic American brand. His first collection seamlessly mixed chic, tailored blazers with bold colours for a smart-casual American vitality. He captures the essence of the brands he works with, whilst updating the collections to suit modern trends. Overall, Simons was remarkably successful with the brand – dressing Saoirse Ronan at the Academy Awards, winning three CFDA Fashion awards and bringing new energy to the New York Fashion Week. Yet PVH, the company that owns Calvin Klein, showed disappointment in the current sales.

Working with both Dior and CK and Jil Sander before that, as well as releasing his own label, are indicators of Simons being a kind of ‘chameleon designer.’ He easily utilises a variety aesthetics and visions – but such a repertoire eventually begs the question, why so many fashion divorces?

His predecessor at Dior, John Galliano, was creative director for 14 years, devouring Simons’ three-year span with the company. Now with this departure from Calvin Klein in under two years, one has to wonder if there are more creative differences than meets the eye. With creative successes at both brands, and some saying he’s even reinvented the tired classics, why such short-term love affairs?

There is, of course, huge amount of pressure on new creative directors and chief designers on where they intend on taking the brand. With many fashion houses no longer being run by their original creators: take Valentino’s retirement in 2008 and Yves Saint Laurent’s death that same year for instance, budding designers take on a huge amount of responsibility. They are expected to uphold the brands classic themes and quality, the same levels of popularity and genius without copying previous work and making their own mark on the brand, and answering to the die-hard fans of the brand and their executive employers. The pressure must be enormous.

Simons’ journey into fashion was a slow one, his interests in techno music and furniture design holding precedence in his early 20s. In an interview with Jan Kedves, Simons commented: “The whole idea of the individual performing towards his own image and performing towards other people. I find this question eternally fascinating: how will another person perceive me and how do I want to perform towards another person?”

Perhaps, Simons is keen to test a variety of brands and therefore a variety of images, proving his capability in each new challenge. He’s certainly up for it, but maybe not for very long…


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