Putting pride aside, there is no denying that London Fashion Week has been lacklustre in recent years. The growing pains of a post-pandemic reality have meant an exodus of hometown heroes like Burberry and Craig Green (to name a few) who’ve flown the coop for Paris and beyond. Although attempts at revitalising the industry has culminated in exciting innovations - like a completely digital fashion week in February - the surest way to inject excitement into any schedule is with a good ole international cameo. This upcoming September, the honour is reserved for Raf Simons who'll be making his London Fashion Week debut with the presentation of his co-ed S/S 23 runway show.
The Belgian designer has been a Parisian fixture since his eponymous label’s early days and recently has become a mainstay in Milan since joining Prada as co-creative director in 2020. Spreading his wings to other far-flung fashion capitals, the brand has also shown in The Big Apple where Simons presented a trilogy of shows (A/W 17, S/S 18, and A/W 18) while serving as the chief creative officer of Calvin Klein. While he’s officially been showing co-ed collections since S/S 21, his masterful menswear has ensured invitations to be the guest designer of Pitti Uomo three times with an exhibition for his 2003 book The Fourth Sex: Adolescent Extremes and runway shows for S/S 05 and S/S 17. In the brand's nearly three decades of operation, London has surprisingly been omitted from any runway show plans.
The upcoming show follows his A/W 22 show that was inspired by Pieter Bruegel the Elder's 1559 painting Netherlandish Proverbs and saw vinyl and velvet paired with Renaissance-inspired hoods and caps courtesy of Stephen Jones. And if the designer's still on the lookout for historical inspiration, there's certainly no shortage of in The Big Smoke a la the Tower of London and the V&A, hence why it’s the city’s always exciting creative scene that Simons cites as his reason for crossing the channel this season.
'It’s been a dream for a while to show in London – a city where fashion and creativity is omnipresent in the streets, and where I see exceptional people with a strong unique style', explains Simons in today's press release. 'I’m extremely excited that this dream is becoming a reality now, and I’m very happy to welcome the amazing people and faces that make up the London scene to my show. Can’t wait to see you and dance the night away.'
Continuously driven by youth culture, it’s surprising Simons hasn't shown in London sooner. His lanky romanticism has defined the brand's aesthetic since his first runway show in Paris for A/W 97, which was rife with collegiate styles and English schoolboy uniforms. Still, the most glaring reason the city makes the perfect setting is the brand's continued references to New Wave and Punk aesthetics, with inspiration from bands like New Order and Joy Division leading to a long-standing collaborative relationship with the very artist who worked with those bands directly, Peter Savile.
The fruitful partnership between the pair has seen them work on a myriad of projects including a reimagining of the Calvin Klein logo in 2018. However, it’s the former Factory Records art director’s iconic album art that Simons has revisited again and again; most notably illustrated in Simons' A/W 03 collection stamped with Saville’s album art for Power, Corruption, and Lies and Unknown Pleasures - a collection that's become stuff of legends among Simon’s die-hard fandom. The instantly recognisable imagery would be revisited again for A/W 17 in a dystopian Blade Runner-inspired collection.
While the upcoming show happens to mark 20 years since the first formal collaboration between the two, that doesn't mean we're holding our breath for another Saville/Simons collaboration come September. Already proving himself to be a musical Anglophile, the city is a cornucopia of inspirations waiting for Simons to uncover and patch on his latest lineup of oversized coats in true Punk fashion. What really makes the city the perfect stomping ground for the brand is its history of championing eccentrics and creative outliers, providing the designer a change of pace from the rigidity of Paris, and even Milan. No matter what the brand has in store, its inclusion on the schedule coupled with returns from Burberry and JW Anderson just made the upcoming September season a whole lot more interesting.
Raf Simons is set to present his S/S 23 runway show on 16 September.