Raf, Alessandro & The Future of Fashion
“Fashion and modernity, as the expressions of elementary progress, need the past as (re)source and point of reference, only to plunder and transform it with an insatiable appetite for advance.” - Urlich Lehmann
By Joseph Weinger
In the past few years, the fashion industry has experienced great change, with the departures of designers, both willingly and unwillingly, from major fashion labels, and the sudden appointments of new creative directors. Hedi Slimane left Saint Laurent, Alexander Wang left Balenciaga, and Alber Elbaz left Lanvin. Two of the most drastic changes in the industry, however, have been Raf Simons’s departure from Dior, and subsequent move to Calvin Klein, and Alessandro Michele's appointment as Creative Director of Gucci. Both changes signify a new era of modernity in today’s consumerist fashion culture, as well as the production and recognition of fashion as an artform.
Both unique in their creativity and styles, Simons and Michele approach fashion from distinct angles, evoking different emotions from their designs. Michele seeks to revive the past through a highly post-modern take on romanticism. After graduating from fashion school, Michele designed for various brands, including Fendi, where he met Frida Giannini. Giannini was hired at Gucci in 2002 and brought along Michele. At Gucci, Michele designed for the accessories department until 2014, when Giannini was fired as creative director. With less than a week until the menswear presentation, Michele was promoted to creative director and designed a completely new collection. His new vision for the almost 100-year-old brand instantly revolutionized what some critics characterized as Giannini’s previously static and boring collections.
Within a year, Michele proved to the world that he is capable of leading a high-grossing label by creating designs that defer to antiquity. Michele’s dresses are modestly ornamental, both elongated, and flowy, and contain a vintage aesthetic. Michele and his team are able to make these styles appear modern in presentation, although in reality the cuts and styles are all reminiscent of past eras. Michele was able to revolutionize Gucci because of his deep understanding of the history of the brand and of Italian fashion. With over a decade of experience at Gucci, he confidently grasps the heritage of such a historically important company as an insider. This can easily be seen through the use of the double-G logo that went out of use until Michelle brought it back. His use of the logo on the bags, belts, and especially in the GucciGhost collaboration, acts not as an indication of social class, as logos once did; rather, these logos portray a sense of self awareness and identity, and pay homage to Gucci’s past. Additionally, within Michele’s collections, the floral embroidery and extoic creatures from the Gucci Garden add a certain playful element to fashion’s occasionally serious nature. Michele throws in fun pieces like the incredibly popular fur loafers and oversized tinted sunglasses to represent the outrageousness of his designs.
Raf Simons comes from a very different background. Having begun his career designing furniture in Belgium, Simons moved to designing clothes for his eponymous line and for Jil Sander. His designs have a distinct minimalist approach, fused with pop culture references. Current designs in the Raf Simons brand include oversized puffer coats and sweaters, button downs with printed images, and an ongoing collaboration with Adidas. Simons’s streetwear for men built up his reputation as a creative genius, which eventually lead to his stunt at Dior.
Simons was appointed Creative Director of Dior, one of the largest fashion labels, in 2012. His time at Dior was highly praised by fashion critics, although, as seen in the documentary Dior and I, Simons had a difficult transition into the world of haute couture and big business. He was given only a few weeks to complete his first collection, and struggled to unify it quickly enough. Nevertheless, Simons successfully presented his first show and continued for three-and-a-half years at Dior. He modernized the Dior look, bringing his minimalist approach to the predictably glamorous, grandiose couture collections.
However, in 2015, Simons suddenly resigned from his role. Dior has become a business more than it is a fashion label. Simons was responsible for turning out six collections every year, each a refreshed and new version of the previous. This exhausted Simons as an artist creatively, but also as a human being who requires rest; in an interview in System, Simons states, “The problem is when you have only one design team and six collections, there is no more thinking time. And I don’t want to do collections where I’m not thinking.” The pressures of running a multi-billion dollar brand forced Simons to step down and focus on his own brand, and, more importantly, his own life.
Simons was appointed Chief Creative Officer at Calvin Klein in the summer of 2016, signifying his transition from a storied European megabrand to a contemporary American one. Simons has been given total authority over all aspects of the global Calvin Klein business, including Collection, Jeans, Underwear, and Home. This immense responsibility to reshape a stagnant brand will prove to be difficult for Simons, an outsider to both American fashion and Calvin Klein. His career has been centralized within European markets, and the adjustment to an American consumer base will presumably be challenging, although not completely new. This unprecedented creative control can forge a revolutionary outcome for a diverse Calvin Klein brand by uniting its products under the official Calvin Klein name and label.
Whether Simons is capable of unifying Calvin Klein remains to be seen. His departure from Dior signals a disapproval of the commercialized nature of fashion. But spearheading another large business seems to contradict the designer’s values. Only time will demonstrate how he will hold up under the pressures of running this corporation in 2016 and beyond. Simons’s first collection is expected to debut in February of 2017 and will merge both menswear and womenswear into one show.
Both Simons and Michele are expected to radicalize their respected labels, thereby continuing the spectacle that is fashion. Both bring in their pasts as reference points for current designs, with extensive experience in the industry, albeit in different capacities. Their “insatiable appetite for advance,” as historian Urlich Lehmann, is what propels these designers and creative geniuses, and collections from both are highly anticipated.
Originally published Fall 2016