Some have cited the much earlier departures of the fashion gods Helmut Lang and Martin Margiela as having parallels with Raf. They’re examples of designers whose bodies of work have only ever grown more revered since they stopped—also at the top of their games. The name of Raf Simons will remain sacrosanct, in the same way.
There are differences, though. Lang and Margiela had already sold their brands before they left. Raf Simons was independent. He can wrap it up as he likes, and also unwrap it. Diehard fans remember there was a period when he put his brand on hold before, and then came back.
Maybe he will, maybe not. Or maybe he’ll do something else altogether – a wholly different project which will suit his personal intellectual interests; one which isn’t hampered by the constant, increasingly tough demands of fitting into the notoriously relentless cycle of ready-to-wear seasons, shows, selling to buyers, factory production, deliveries, sales—and repeat. If that’s one of the motivations—the extreme difficulty which faces all independent designers who are locked into the wholesale system—then it would not be surprising at all that he chose this moment to bow out of it.
But perhaps there’s more to it than that. Being ‘relevant’ has always been a touch-stone of authenticity in Raf’s vocabulary—‘relevant‘ to the times, and to the new ways of thinking generated by youth. These days, there are so many more ways than wholesale fashion business to be ‘relevant’ and present in fashion. The young generation, with whom Raf is in touch, are all busy inventing new systems for themselves. Those kinds of conversations were the ones he was having with students and young designers and self-starters in London. Was it inspiring to him to hear the way they talk?
Then again, after 27 years, there surely comes a point in any artist’s life when everything that can be said on a subject, has been. For Raf, there must be a brave satisfaction in being able to have sole control over drawing the line under his body of work, and sealing it for posterity. The ultimate act of a free designer taking charge of their destiny.
Still, despite the shock which has greeted his announcement, let’s not forget that it’s a move which is quite in character. Because the other thing we know about Raf Simons—and about the unpredictability and speed of events in today’s fashion—is that he’s someone who’s never afraid to make swift, decisive, and unexpected moves. He went from Jil Sander to Christian Dior to Calvin Klein to Prada in the space of eight years. Closing his own brand could be seen, perhaps, as another of the instinct-driven decisions that are characteristic of his fluid mentality towards his career. It’s not for nothing, I think, that he signed off yesterday’s instagram post with ‘Forward always, Raf.’