THE SECOND COMING

Raf Simons’ Fall 2017 Show Was a Love Letter to New York

The designer conquered New York in under 15 minutes with a youth-inflected romantic collection that made groupies out of jaded fashionistas.


It was endearing, really, to see how earnestly excited the kids were to see a Raf Simons show in the flesh. Gagosian Gallery on Wednesday night was packed with fashion’s biggest names, celebrities, designers of Simons’ stature, influential stylists and women’s magazine editors who wouldn’t normally take in a men’s fashion show, all there to see Simons’ American berth. This was a room of jaded observers who’d seen many of the designer’s collections before and who in the minutes between when the lights dimmed and the show began looked into the distance with practiced boredom, lest anyone confuse their presence for enthusiasm.

“I always think Raf’s shows are exciting,” the stylist Mel Ottenberg deadpanned before the show. “It’s funny because, you know, a lot of people that are here tonight have never been.”

But in the middle of it all was young Luka Sabbat, the Instagram influencer, who in his best vintage Simons looked as giddy as a teenage girl before a Zayn Malik concert.

“I’m here seeing the god in action,” said Sabbat, who was born in 1997, just two years after Simons showed his first men’s collection. “I wish I could really genuinely get all of this out but I could talk about it for three hours.”

Raf Simons Arrives in New York: Backstage and Inside His Fall 2017 Show

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

Backstage before the presentation of Raf Simons A/W ’17 Collection.

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Simons’ hold on the imagination of young men like Sabbat and A$AP Rocky, who was also front row, is unparalleled, and for the uninitiated the first showing of his eponymous label in their hometown had the makings of a religious event. Even for the cognoscenti, designers ranging from Joseph Altuzarra and the Proenza Schouler boys to Narciso Rodriguez, and artists like Sterling Ruby, a frequent collaborator of the designer’s, this was a happening that invigorated the sometimes pro-forma New York collections season.

“It’s a testament to him and how much admiration there is for him in New York,” Rodriguez said of the attendance of several of his peers.

Simons seemed acutely aware of the hype surrounding his big entrance and he leavened expectations with a collection that was impossible to resist even by hardened New Yorkers, as it was directed straight at them. From the first distressed sweaters that reworked Milton Glaser’s classic New York logo to read “I Heart York”, it was clear this was a love letter to his new home, where he’s moved his personal life and business, to run his eponymous label and Calvin Klein.

I Heart Raf: Male Models Explain Why They Love Raf Simons So Much

“Raf is sick! He is meticulous with his work, and that produces great fashion.”

Photos by Biel Parklee and Alex Hodor-Lee.

“I don’t really know a lot about fashion, but this show has gotten me excited.”

Photos by Biel Parklee and Alex Hodor-Lee.

“What I love most about Raf is his shoes. I love the look that I’m wearing for the show.”

Photos by Biel Parklee and Alex Hodor-Lee.

“He’s very meticulous in everything he does. He makes sure everything is perfect, which is so inspiring.”

Photos by Biel Parklee and Alex Hodor-Lee.

“I love the jackets.”

Photos by Biel Parklee and Alex Hodor-Lee.

“What I love about Raf is that he has a variety of clothes, from suits to like basic t-shirts. Almost everything he makes is comfortable and goes with everything. He has a good symmetry with his clothes.”

Photos by Biel Parklee and Alex Hodor-Lee.

“I love his creativity and the way he looks at certain things.”

Photos by Biel Parklee and Alex Hodor-Lee.

“I like his designs… Raf is cool.”

Photos by Biel Parklee and Alex Hodor-Lee.

“The clothes are very cool.”

Photos by Biel Parklee and Alex Hodor-Lee.

Raf… I can’t even begin to say what I love about him. Because the man amazes me every season, is always so special to work with him. And I think that creatively he is maybe the best one who delivered the past 10 years.

Photos by Biel Parklee and Alex Hodor-Lee.
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Simons is sometimes perceived as a minimalist, a cause of concern he remarked upon in the documentary Dior & I, which covered the making of his first haute couture collection for the French house. But if there was one trademark that his Fall 2017 collection underlined is that he’s always been a romantic. The first looks, elegant trench coats cinched at the waist by duct tape and paired with women’s necklaces and arm warmers and knit crop tops bearing the words “I Heart You,” came out to Roxy Music’s melancholy “In Every Dream Home a Heartache.”

Unlike other designers, Simons is unafraid to wear his emotions on his sleeve, in this case literally, and in the end, it may be that sensibility that has fueled his cult of personality with young people like Sabbat who can namecheck specific collections of his that, in some cases, were made before their teens. He “gets” them, in other words—or, as Sabbat phrased it, “If you know, you know”— and their sincerity continues to be an animating design principle behind the label, his “Youth Project” as it read in some of the sweaters. This was a smart collection, too, one that delivered top-notch outerwear for the customers who can afford it and the sort of immediately recognizable pieces the internet adores—the “I Heart York” sweaters were everywhere on Instagram afterward and are destined to be the next Virginia Creeper—with styling that played on DIY culture. (Coming soon to Bushwick: duct tape belts!)

By the time a dreamy remix of “Keep on Loving You” closed the show, Simons had New York in his palm, and he did it all in under 15 minutes. “Oh my god, bro, I’m gonna, I’m gonna,” Sabbat swooned, almost out of breath, on our way out.”I’m gonna have to buy the whole collection.”

Before Pitti Uomo, A Look Back at Raf Simons by Raf Simons

Raf Simons at his Fall 2016 Menswear presentation in Paris, France, January 2016. Photo by François Guillot/AFP/Getty Images.

Raf Simons Fall 2016 in Paris, France, January 2016. Photo by Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

Backstage at Raf Simons Fall 2016 in Paris, France, January 2016. Photo by Getty Images.

Raf Simons Fall 2016 in Paris, France, January 2016. Photo by Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

Raf Simons Fall 2016 in Paris, France, January 2016. Photo by Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

Raf Simons Fall 2016 in Paris, France, January 2016. Photo by Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

Raf Simons Spring 2016 in Paris, France, June 2015. Photo by Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

Raf Simons Spring 2016 in Paris, France, June 2015. Photo by Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

Raf Simons Spring 2016 in Paris, France, June 2015. Photo by Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

Raf Simons Spring 2015 in Paris, France, January 2015. Photo by Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

Raf Simons Spring 2015 in Paris, France, January 2015. Photo by Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

Raf Simons Spring 2015 in Paris, France, January 2015. Photo by Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

Raf Simons Fall 2015 in Paris, France, June 2015. Photo by François Guillot/AFP/Getty Images.

Raf Simons Fall 2014 in Paris, France, January 2014. Photo by Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

Raf Simons Fall 2014 in Paris, France, January 2014. Photo by Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

Raf Simons Spring 2014 in Paris, France, June 2013. Photo by Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

Raf Simons Spring 2014 in Paris, France, June 2013. Photo by Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

Raf Simons Spring 2014 in Paris, France, June 2013. Photo by Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images.

Raf Simons Fall 2013 in Paris, France, January 2013. Photo by Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

Raf Simons Fall 2013 in Paris, France, January 2013. Photo by Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

Raf Simons Fall 2013 in Paris, France, January 2013. Photo by Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

Raf Simons Fall 2013 in Paris, France, January 2013. Photo by Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

Raf Simons Spring 2013 in Paris, France, June 2012. Photo by Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

Raf Simons Spring 2013 in Paris, France, June 2012. Photo by Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

Raf Simons Spring 2013 in Paris, France, June 2012. Photo by Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

Raf Simons Fall 2012 in Paris, France, January 2012. Photo by Alexander Klein/AFP/Getty Images.

Raf Simons Fall 2012 in Paris, France, January 2012. Photo by Alexander Klein/AFP/Getty Images.

Raf Simons Spring 2012 in Paris, France, June 2011. Photo by Getty Images.

Raf Simons Spring 2012 in Paris, France, June 2011. Photo by Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

Raf Simons Spring 2012 in Paris, France, June 2011. Photo by Getty Images.

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