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Raf Simons Spring/Summer 2023
Raf Simons Spring/Summer 2023Courtesy of Raf Simons

Inside Raf Simons’ Corporeal, Serotonin-Fuelled London Rave

Raf Simons’ Spring/Summer 2023 show – staged at Printworks in London – was a celebration of physicality, corporeality and humanity that felt not only natural, but yearned for, writes Alexander Fury

Lead ImageRaf Simons Spring/Summer 2023Courtesy of Raf Simons

Raf Simons enjoys challenging. It’s not that he feels a need to rebel or provoke, but he certainly wishes to question received orthodoxies and accepted methodologies. A few times in the past, he has opted to invite his audience to stand – rather than sit – at his fashion shows, which has a number of interesting effects. First of all, it levels the playing field between industry insiders – gatekeepers, perhaps – and ardent fans who, suddenly, can fight their way to a front-row position through sheer chutzpah. It has also sometimes placed the models and the audience on a level playing field, with models weaving through a clustered crowd rather than parading along a catwalk; as contemporaries, rather than being ‘othered’ by the podium of the catwalk. And, occasionally, those shows have wound up feeling, with their pumping music and huddled masses, like raves winding down, or indeed gearing up.

Perhaps that helped inspire Simons’ latest show – his first in London – staged at Printworks, a vast club venue due for closure and redevelopment (no doubt into soulless and unaffordable flats or offices), but which had a last hurrah via a Raf rave. Last week, a thousand or so press, buyers and indeed fans from all walks of life poured into a hangar-sized space and jostled at a long bar down one side of the room, as you tend to at these things. What was less expected was the bar staff sweeping away the beers, whipping off the tablecloths and transforming said bar into a catwalk for Simons’ Spring/Summer 2023 collection to march down. In this context, Simons’ gang of models seemed like performers – musicians, maybe, or indeed ballet dancers, the core of the inspiration for the clothes he showed.

Physicality was the word Simons used to describe it – ballet surrounded form-fitting leggings and stretched tops, and bodysuits fastening between the legs, streamlining and simplifying the silhouette. Tailoring was cut close to the body – but it was also sliced away, jackets cut into tank shapes with low-scooped necks, vestigial details of lapels and pockets clinging on. Trousers were reduced right down, to two panels of cloth, slit high in the side. “The body is the main impact,” Simons told me. “Dance, youth, going out. Displaying bodies.” Physicality extended to a collaboration with the estate of the Belgian artist Philippe Vandenberg whose work, guttural and emphatic with harshly-scribbled shapes and words, vibrated with the force of the hand. Simons appeared to have ripped the works off the walls and wrapped them around his slender models, to make tanks and elongated skirts, or placed square on T-shirting.

It was an energising Simons show – not only because of the thrusting bodies, vibrating music, and sense of community coming together after much delay. That was there too, though – Simons originally wanted to show this collection in February’s London Fashion Week but was stymied by Covid concerns; the death of Queen Elizabeth II delayed its debut a few more weeks. So undoubtedly there was a sense of relief at finally unleashing it. Yet the true energy and power came from the clothes, from Simons shifting from the overscaled proportions he helped to popularise in the contemporary fashion landscape, and proposing something that felt not only new, but now. After an extended period when our bodies seemed more enemy than friend – when we wore masks and gloves, and when the United States Centre for Disease Control was recommending sexual contact through glory holes for fear of what interacting with another human body could wreak upon your own – this celebration of physicality, corporeality and humanity feels not only natural, but yearned for. There’s a longing for touch and feeling – and this Simons show was a celebration of that, of our bodies, of youth, of dancing. Of the serotonin rush from letting go, and indulging yourself in pleasure. It’s needed sometimes – indeed, it does a body good. 

Incidentally, after the show, Simons dived into the crowd, the music picked back up, and everyone kept on partying. Who knows when we’ll all get the chance to again.