British nightlife is in a moment of crisis. The closure of nightclubs and growing uniformity of places to go drinking and dancing is part of the whole sanitisation of culture - the process of cleaning up the outsiders, shutting down anything niche or controversial and selling us back gourmet burgers and jam jar cocktails packaged up using the codes of past cultural highs. Each week another club - each the mothership of a different clique, the home of many memories, the most important hub in the world to the boys and girls who have partied there - is shuttered by the council or local authorities. It’s a saga that wasn’t lost on London’s designers this menswear season; everyone from Christopher Shannon to Lou Dalton and even Topman nodded to it in some way or another.
But what does Raf Simons know or care about British nightlife? After all, he was born in Limburg in Belgium, studied in Antwerp and now operates mainly out of Paris. Well, who knows if he ever frequented The Wigan Casino or The Hacienda, but Raf Simons cares about youth. It's his obsession. It's that interest that will have led him to Mark Leckey’s Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore film from 1999, an amalgamation of found footage featuring UK nightclub revellers. Anyone who cares about youth culture has at some point seen it. Ironically, perhaps everyone except today’s youth, who will be too green to remember the seventies disco scene, or Northern soul or the raves of the nineties, though they’ll unwittingly have heard audio clips from Leckey’s film, sampled on Jamie xx tracks. Plus, they can now learn about those movements through Simons’ clothing, which drew direct inspiration from the film. DJ Michel Gaubert had helped pinpoint the reference by playing the soundtrack as today's show music. Skip to the two minute mark in the piece - now available on YouTube, though originally screened at the ICA - and you’ll see the supper baggy high-waisted brown trousers that appeared on today’s runway. Later you’ll notice similar shrunken knits and grungy flares.
Simons is intrigued by the fate and future of youth; the tribes young people form, the identities they adopt, the clothes they wear. If last season his kids were at school, hazing each other and establishing formative allies, for S/S 16 they’d graduated to Leckey’s clubs. It was the same boys as before though, you could tell that not only from the fact that Simons had invited us back to the same venue as last season, a warehouse outside of Paris filled with red disco lights, but also from the fragments of the last show that reappeared; the long white coats, the puddling trousers, the shrunken knitted vests. That continuation was intriguing - it suggested the authenticity of Simons’ explorations of youth and his motivation to get into the mindset of his imagined adolescents as they grow and change. Why kill off last season's muses and form new ones when you can imagine them discovering disco age 15 and just tweak their look accordingly?
Like Leckey’s video, today’s collection was all about identity. Rather than take one turn on the runway, the models lapped, gradually bunching and grouping as they went. It suggested that this wasn't about garments so much as an ideology and stance. That’s why you were encouraged to view the collection as a whole statement, rather than as an edit of key pieces. Because great clubbing is all about groups, factions and gangs - it’s about congregating together with others to pledge allegiance to some unknown, arbitrary thing, be it a drug, a track, a dance floor or a beat drop. Commitment, obsessions and groupings are tricky topics at the moment what with organisations like ISIS in the news each day - they evoke conversations about radicalisation, particularly given the number of young people finding solace and hope amongst extremist groups having felt rejected and uncomfortable in society. One wondered if that informed the headscarfs that covered some models’ faces, giving them an aggressive, almost criminal veneer. They harked back to Simons’ adolescent army from S/S 02.
But fervent commitment doesn’t have to be dark. In fact, it was Leckey himself that noted that youthful obsessions often involve pop culture far more than they do politics. Commenting on the title of his film, he once remarked, ‘something as trite and throwaway and exploitative as a jeans manufacturer can be taken by a group of people and made into something totemic, and powerful, and life-affirming.’ There’s something telling in that. Simons too has his tribe - those who worship his collections, buy up his archive and live by his sartorial rules. The commitment Leckey’s revellers felt towards their scene, music or nightclub will no doubt be felt by fashion fans towards these clothes. They’ll be saved up for, worn as a badge of honour, a way of showing a certain cultural knowledge, an emblem of an identification with and understanding of something special. Perhaps that’s the point Simons was trying to make - for S/S 16 Raf will make us all hardcore.