At a time when fashion seems more than ever to be questioning and testing the boundaries between genders, he's still one of the cleverest proponents.
The questioning began at Jil Sander as soon as we sat down - on a plywood set that engulfed seats, walls and floor alike. It was robust, it was raw - it reminded me a little bit of the deepest American tradition of DIY - and it was very masculine. Those were also key points in Raf Simons' A/W collection, but as with the setting, there was far more than first met the eye.
On paper, this was a remarkably straightforward collection. Simons' Sander covered all the bases, offering neat suiting, sportswear-inspired overcoats, a few t-shirts and a clutch of sweaters. All bases, all basics. But as the show progressed, one's eye adjusted to Simon's imperceptibly altered proportions, the torso bulked-up with a roomier, wider cut to shoulders, more volume in the sleeves, and thick, chunky melton wool and neoprenes. Elsewhere, intricate quilting achieved that weight, scrolling stitching across jackets, t-shirts and trousers firming and defining the silhouette.
Sometimes, Simons reverted to a winter classic - layer upon layer of fabric. A sweater sloped at the neck to reveal a pile-up of polonecks, additional layers slipping out at the cuff. Jackets were piled on t-shirts piled on sweaters, and even shoes fusing a moccasin with a formal brogue. The Sander boys, granted, were so slight you hardly noticed this additional heft - so Simons cleverly sliced his trousers close and clean, the shrunken bottom half a contrast to the stuffy masculinity above.
Simons often plays these games with masculine and feminine, and at a time when fashion seems more than ever to be questioning and testing the boundaries between genders, he's still one of the cleverest proponents. Case in point were the chunky parkas: cropped at the waist and multi-pocketed, they seemed perfectly in tune with the workman, workaday environs of the show. But at a second glance, their cut was also reminiscent of mid-century couture, and indeed all that quilting could have been an Abraham Matelasse from a sixties Balenciaga ballgown, especially in shades of apricot and neon-orange. Those were a hang-over from from his much-acclaimed S/S 2011 collections - you can never have too much of a good thing - but here there were subtler echoes of his skills as a colourist in juxtapositions of French navy, black and bottle-green.
Colliding couture and workwear in not only a single collection, but a single garment - and for men to boot - takes a ton of talent, and even more chutzpah. Simons somehow made it look utterly effortless. That's why he's where he is today.