Online interview magazine The Talks recently caught up with legendary Belgian fashion designer, Raf Simons, giving us a personal insight into his world, his early days as a design student and his thought processes. Simons comes across as a humble and astute creative personality, someone who, for his closeness to the fashion industry, exists almost as a parallel entity to it. Read an extract from the conversation below, with the full interview over at The Talks.
Mr. Simons, would you consider yourself someone that lives and breathes fashion?
How can I put this without being too critical? I don’t have so many things in the fashion world that interest me. It’s probably because I am so deeply into it. Often when you go very deep into something, you also discover what it’s about and you understand it better. With the art world I still have a lot of curiosity. There are a lot of things that I feel attracted to and I don’t necessarily understand them and that’s what fascinates me. In the fashion world I know a lot of the brands and the designers and you start to be more critical and you start to have a very specific point of view.
But isn’t fashion such a significant part of your life?
The fashion thing is something I do, and yes it is definitely also becoming a part of myself and my personality. It also doesn’t really feel like a job either: it’s a dream or a passion or something. I think there are things that I relate to more than fashion though, personal, private things. Like my environment, my family, my friends, you know.
I’ve read that the first fashion show you ever went to was Maison Martin Margiela. You said it was so beautiful that half the audience cried and it had a huge influence on you. Why?
Because that was the day that I understood that fashion could also be conceptual and intellectual, that it could be linked to a certain kind of social, psychological thing. That Martin Margiela show was in a really trashy area in Paris and it wasn’t in a building, it was in a playground from a black neighborhood. The parents had agreed to do the show for the Margiela company only if their children could come and see it. Everybody was expecting the children to just stay on the side and sit with the audience, but they didn’t.
They started to play with the girls and it was a very, very different thing. Before my perception of fashion was a high-staged Americano, you know like sun tans, boys, healthy. Martin was turning it completely around; it was like they came out of a grave or something. They looked really different. I don’t have that background; my parents are very working-class and I come from a village where there is no culture.
How did you find your creativity in such a place?
One of the first things I picked up when I was very, very young out of a record store was work from Peter Saville, the early things he used to do for Factory Records. I come from a village of 6,000 people, so forget about Berlin, London, New York – what are you talking about? – I didn’t know anything. So I picked up things because of the imagery. We have to think back in time – no computers, no mobiles, no nothing – it was pure isolation in a way.
You never traveled when you were younger?
No traveling, never went on a holiday. My life was literally my street. And I picked up records because when you’re young, you’re into the bands. And what were the bands back in the day? The Cure, Anne Clarke, and all the new wave things. And then suddenly there were these things from New Order, Power, Corruption, and Lies with the flowers and the wreath. I was like, “What is that?”
Is that how you became interested in fashion?
No. I was in a college, you know, with priests teaching. We were not informed about what was possible. Until I was eighteen I did not know that you could study fashion design or art. I really didn’t know. I already had my nose in the art world, I was already looking at things, but I didn’t really get it that you could study that because my school was a very different environment. It was the kind of school where they want you to become a doctor or a lawyer and that’s not at all what my personality is.
How did you manage to get out of that?
I got this book from these people who would come to the class once or twice a year to show you what the possibilities to go and study are. In the back of the book there was a half page on architecture and a half page on industrial design. I looked at the address of the industrial design school and it wasn’t too far from my parents’ house – I could get there with a bus – so I thought I’d go and have a look. I walked through the door and I thought, “This is what I’m going to do.” I saw all these kids sitting there, with cigarettes, it looked like such a different world.
But that was industrial design, how did you end up in fashion?
Within the first months at that school I realized everything that was possible – going to an art school, going to a fashion school – and it was in that period that the Belgian designers started to shape up and I was very attracted to that. There was a Belgian fashion designer named Walter Van Beirendonck and I saw that the way he was handling fashion was not just by making clothes, he was also doing presentations and masks and furniture. I was so modest to think that I wouldn’t be welcomed in fashion because I was in design school, but I thought maybe I should just write a letter to see if he had an interest in letting me work for them and that worked out. He’s actually the one who took me to Paris to that Martin Margiela show we were talking about earlier.
It’s interesting because it feels like this combination of different but related art fields was always very present in your career and in your interests.
How do you deal with your star status in the fashion industry?
It’s not that much in my interest. It’s actually something that I’ve found quite complicated for a while. I’ve always kind of tried to split it up, but that is becoming more and more difficult because I’m attracted to do things that have this constant dialogue with an audience and it seems to keep growing. Which is a good feeling because that means that people want to have that dialogue with me or the things I do. So it is kind of fascinating, but the idea of fame just for fame’s sake is something that I actually hate.
Read the full article at The Talks.