The vibe shift has arrived at Raf Simons. After pandemic collections that furthered his explorations of youth and distress (and sometimes youth in distress), Simons pivoted on his glossy black heel. For fall 2022, the tense, urgent shapes of his rioters and revolutionaries has dissipated into a silhouette that is abjectly elegant, with draped pleated trousers, slender cloak wraps, black blouson bomber jackets, and backpacks with silken trains. Set in a stately interior, with glass chandeliers and furniture draped in red fabric, the collection’s video looks like a scene from a brooding horror movie that would have not 20 lines of dialogue yet would chill you to the bone.
That’s how Simons works: Say nothing and project it all through the clothing and the environment. This season he gave but one hint about his collection: Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s 1559 painting Netherlandish Proverbs. The opening look, a blue cloak suspended from a hat designed in partnership with Stephen Jones, is almost a one-to-one remake of the garb worn by the painting’s central figure. From here, the hood-hats continue in luxurious colors, emphasizing the thinness of Simons’s silhouette. Several versions without the head adornment are worn front-to-back, with hand-painted designs on them, one a trompe l’oeil illustration of hands holding a bouquet. A few graphics have snuck their way in, of course, printed across suits similar to last season’s, and there is no shortage of roomy, textural black outerwear, cut from what looks like almost every fabric under the sun: velvet, nylon, vinyl, wool.
Here’s where things get eerie: Tented prairie dresses made from what appears to be latex, worn with cloaks and long leather neckties. There is something undeniably kinky about the combination; fabrics and ideas taken from the bondage shop and stripped of their obvious hotness. Simons is best when he is in a clash, taking the obvious and making it strange, turning the serene into something suspicious, or electrifying peaceful shapes with a rebellious edge. These combinations are the oddest and most enticing facet of this collection—why would you make this? Why style it this way?
Maybe the purpose of being a silent designer is to leave the questions unanswered. To provoke, not explain. Back to the painting. Art historical interpretations of the work cast the people in the town’s square as fools, acting out proverbs of the era like “banging one’s head against a brick wall,” or “the world is turned upside down.” What does that central figure in the blue cloak depict, the one whose very cloak opens this collection? A man who has been cheated on by his wife. What can we extrapolate from that? How could Simons relate? Hmm. For a designer who rarely speaks publicly, he manages, always, to say a lot about himself, his life, his obsession in his work. Vibes are shifting indeed.