The Raf Simons Show That Paid Homage to David Lynch – and Laura Dern

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Raf Simons Autumn/Winter 2019 AW19 David Lynch Laura Dern
Raf Simons Autumn/Winter 2019Photography by Cris Fragkou

We remember Simons’ Autumn/Winter 2019 show, which saw AnOther Magazine’s latest cover star, Laura Dern, emblazoned across a masterful menswear collection

The Show

In December 2018, it was announced that acclaimed Belgian designer Raf Simons would be leaving his role as chief creative officer of Calvin Klein, less than two years after his appointment. The following January, against this unavoidable backdrop, Simons presented his Autumn/Winter 2019 collection for his eponymous menswear label in Paris, marking his first public outing since. He chose the city’s luxurious Shangri-La Hotel as the setting – a far cry from the usual sparse standing-room-only venues on Paris’ periphery, where Simons usually shows his own-label collections. It made for a thrilling proposition: what would the agenda-setting designer do next?

A hint came via the invitation: a printed still of a 19-year-old Laura Dern – who today is revealed as the cover star of AnOther Magazine’s S/S20 issue, photographed and styled by longtime Simons collaborators Willy Vanderperre and Olivier Rizzo– in David Lynch’s seminal 1986 psycho-drama Blue Velvet, the film which would mark the first of a lifelong collaboration between the actor and director. (In her cover interview, with Hannah Lack, Dern admits she has never auditioned for Lynch, and regularly meets him for fried chicken at the Chateau Marmont.) Simons himself is a devoted fan of the auteur: his Autumn/Winter 2016 menswear show drew inspiration from the original iteration of Twin Peaks, from outsized or shrunken varsity sweaters, torn and stretched, to body-swamping puffa jackets, soundtracked by a recording of composer Angelo Badalamenti discussing his career-long collaboration with Lynch (the show also took place on the filmmaker’s birthday, though Simons insisted this was pure coincidence).

But it was his A/W19 collection which provided perhaps his most specific ode to Lynch yet, at least to the director’s visual signature – across the collection, appliquéd images, stuck on like badges or patches (something of a Simons calling card in recent seasons) were stills from his most memorable movies, from Dern and co-star Kyle MacLachlan in Blue Velvet, to the actress’ mascara-stained face crying into a telephone, taken from Lynch’s 1990 black-comedy Wild at Heart. “It was very much going back to those early days – Joy Division, Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks,” he told Alexander Fury in AnOther Magazine A/W19. They were inspirations Simons first encountered in adolescence: indeed, as Lack describes, the stills in the collection evoke “posters pinned to a besotted teenager’s bedroom wall” – perhaps the designer’s own, in the Belgian hinterlands of Neerpelt, where he grew up.

The collection also marked a full-time return to his native Belgium, to Antwerp, where the designer began his career in fashion and where his label continues to be based. Previously, he had lived in New York while working at Calvin Klein – there, his collections found a preoccupation with the grand narratives of Hollywood and the American Dream (or perhaps nightmare) – and before that, had split his time between Antwerp and Paris, where he was creative director of Dior. “It’s the city where I’ve been for almost 30 years now,” he told Fury of Antwerp. “That doesn’t mean I’m always going to sit and stay in Antwerp, but it’s definitely my place...”

The People

Though the usual stream of high-profile well-wishers attended the show (including musician and Simons-fan Frank Ocean, who was captured excitedly offering the designer his congratulations post-show), it was Dern – wearing the perforated ‘beer can’ top and a black duchesse-satin overcoat from his Spring/Summer 2019 collection – who garnered the most attention. “I didn’t know anything about this, until the invite showed up,” she joked on arrival about her face being using as the invitation, though it was she, who has in recent years become friends with the designer, who had helped Simons receive usage permission to use the stills in the collection itself. Backstage, where the designer was wearing one of the jumpers appliquéd with Dern’s image, he gushed that the actress “means the world” to him.

In the show itself walked a number of Simons’ ‘fashion family’ – the models who have long appeared in the designer’s shows, whether for his eponymous label, or at Calvin Klein, Jil Sander or Dior, or been photographed for his many campaigns. Those included longtime muses, Belgian model Luca Lemaire and German model Jonas Glöer, among others (the latter’s girlfriend, Kiki Willems, is also one of Simons’ most-cast models). Meanwhile, after an initial soundtrack which included the song Atmosphere by Joy Division, Brussels-based post-punk band Whispering Sons played live over the latter half of the collection. Simons said at the time he hasn’t felt this way about a band since The xx – who he recently collaborated with on a special collection – enchanted by music their official bio describes as evoking (in distinctly Simons-like manner) “alienation, propelled by an urging and ominous sound”.

The Impact

The show itself unfolded in two halves – as Simons deemed, “a diptyque” – marked by an intermission at its centre. While Simons was reticent to talk about his departure from Calvin Klein – and specifically caveated backstage that the collection had been completed the previous summer, long before his exit from the American brand was finalised – there nonetheless seemed to be metaphorical implications to this split-approach, part one of which was marked by an austere (and typically ‘menswear’) palette of camel and black, white and navy, while in part two, the same pieces were re-rendered in sublime colour: rich pink and greens, aqua blues. “It’s been a year of extreme contrasts,” Simons told Tim Blanks of The Business of Fashion

Whatever the case, the collection’s impact came in Simons’ masterful balance of past and present, youth and experience – the kind of dichotomies that have long energised the designer’s work. Here, he looked back to the haute couture of Yves Saint Laurent – which perhaps in part explains the collection’s salon-like presentation – not simply sharing the couturier’s delight in rich colour and the architecture of clothes, but also in the various trinkets which hung on monastic, floor-length coats, and referenced the floral embroidery on Saint Laurent capes from the 1980s. This glance backwards was melded with his own very contemporary fixations – Lynch, of course – but also the ephemerality and appeal of youth, here conjured in the proportions – David Byrne-sized shoulders, giant helmet-like cotton caps, with trailing fastenings – as if the models might be playing dress-up in too-big clothes.

Such deep-minded reference points are what give Simons’ shows – and collections – an overwhelming sense of emotion, as if season on season he is revealing more of his obsessions and preoccupations, both the long-held and recently discovered. And, considering the circumstance, this collection was surely more emotional than most – though, as the designer has been known to do on occasion, Simons did not outwardly display his own emotions after the show. “It’s not that I’m going to put a big broken heart on a T-shirt,” he told Fury prior. “I’m OK.”

More than OK, actually – the show, in its defiant balance of old and new, past and present, was an assertion of Simons’ position as the most important menswear – or perhaps any – designer in the world.