Raf Simons' Photo Album

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Raf Simons
Courtesy of Raf Simons

Raf Simons speaks to Jo-Ann Furniss for Another Man about the photo album that inspired and decorated his S/S15 collection

"After the Autumn/Winter collection with Sterling Ruby, it seemed that the only possible way to go for Spring/Summer was deeper inside myself – to find out where designing all started and how it fits with me personally. This collection was not about shapes or forms, it was a kind of ‘memory wear’. I was always thinking of the future for so many years and I was always anti-romanticising the past. But I have to admit the past can be beautiful too. There has never been a collection with so much of me personally attached to it.

"I have always hated having my picture taken; I’m not sure why, but maybe it just felt irrelevant to me in terms of what I do. If I could choose to be anonymous I would be"

I have always hated having my picture taken; I’m not sure why, but maybe it just felt irrelevant to me in terms of what I do. If I could choose to be anonymous I would be – I know it’s a cliché, but it’s true. Now, I have started to look at photographs in a different kind of way, as part of a memory. Many of the photographs I have used on the clothing in this collection are connected to emotions: love, happiness, fear, sadness… they all connect to moments in my life. Then there are pictures related to things that inspired me in the moment, as well as things I have always been obsessed by. Choosing the pictures was a very intuitive process; not everything was really about explaining in words."

1. “This photograph was taken just before I started work on my first collection; I was still thinking about starting and turning into a designer. I had become close friends with Olivier [Rizzo]. He had graduated from the Antwerp Academy in 1993 and the ‘Superman’ t-shirt I am wearing here is from his final degree show – he gave the shirt to me as a present and I still have it. This is a passport picture and, of course, I am not looking at the camera; I didn’t like having my picture taken, I still don’t.”

2. “This picture is something that I would never normally do at this time. When you start a brand you automatically become very exposed – and I was always trying to get out of photographs. That’s why I am walking out of the picture frame – I am literally walking away! But, at the same time, this photograph was a realisation that these things were actually happening to me. This was one of the first pictures taken in the new atelier; I am trying to get away and there are two boys fading into the background.”

3. “This picture was taken in the build up to the Black Palms show. Black Palms was the second show I did, there were no photographs taken of the first. This is a garage in the Bastille area of Paris where the show was to be held. I am on some scaffolding starting to pin up pictures of palm trees that would eventually be all over the venue. What I am wearing really defines my look and the look of the collections at that time: black outfits, long, skinny, white Stan Smiths – it was all related to that silhouette. Elke is also in the picture; she worked with me for many years and I have known her since I was 15. She is like family, and still sets up the show space and prep space for us in Paris. It looks like the scaffolding in Don’t Look Now, which is, of course, sublime! Horror movies have been a big influence on me.”

4. “There is such an elegance to this picture; I have always been obsessed by it. It is of my mother and father, with my father shooting. It looks like a film still and has always felt very film noir to me. My dad was an army man and good at all kinds of sports, but he never showed off about it. There is a lot of pride in that picture; he was able to shoot and hit the target the first time. It was at a fairground stall where you hit the target and a photograph was automatically taken – this was it. There is an idea of pride in the latest collection with the symbolism of the peacock and that photograph is a very proud moment for both my mother and father – they’re a peacock couple!”

5, 6, 7. “My parents always spent a lot of time by the sea when they were younger, year in and year out. It was generally always in Belgium somewhere, probably Ostend. I have many photographs like this of them and they are love pictures for me; without them even touching, you can see the love between them. For me these pictures are very romantic, like a fairytale… Does that sound stupid?” 

8. “Nature and the sea are these two big symbols for me; I have that link with nature and I always try and escape to the sea, just like my parents did. I like looking at water: it feels calming and romantic – and endless. This photograph made me think a lot about that, and also about my mum and dad. People don’t think of me in this way, but I did, in fact, grow up in the countryside. When I was a child, my parents could never really take a holiday abroad, we would always go to the Belgian seaside. This is one of my first holidays abroad with some of my friends from university – this is when I was in Genk studying industrial design. We are in the Canary Islands; one of my parents’ friends lives there. You can see that, before I decided to go into fashion, I wasn’t all dark and black and Helmut Lang – I was actually orange and tanned!” 

9. “That is my dad, standing on the left, back when he was in the army with one of his close friends. This picture was taken in the barracks. I suppose that this photograph just says something to me about friendship. Here my dad is, really young – and his friend is not one of the people that I have ever known. It always had a certain impact on me; the idea that my dad was once in the army, but when I was growing up he was a night watchman rather than a career soldier. It made me think of him in a very different way, as somebody else... as somebody who was not just my father.”

The new issue of Another Man is out now.