Photographed by David Sims, Vogue, December 2012.
Raf Simons has become one of fashion’s most central and celebrated figures since entering the industry in 1995, thanks to his work at his eponymous menswear label and stints as creative director at Jil Sander and Dior. Today, it was announced that the Belgian will be the next creative director of Calvin Klein, overseeing women’s and men’s ready-to-wear.
To those familiar with Simons’s youth-inspired vision, the appointment makes good sense: Calvin Klein is the brand behind fashion’s iconic Kate and Marky Mark ads and CK One’s gender-bending, cooler-than-thou look in the ’90s, and Simons has riffed on his own youth in Belgium to the acclaim of the industry. What’s more, when he left Dior, it was said that one of his reasons was he wanted complete oversight, something he would be closer to having at Calvin.
For those not so familiar with the designer, here’s a primer on Simons’s life and career as he steps into his new role at Calvin Klein.
1968: Raf Simons is born in the small town of Neerpelt, Belgium. His father is a night watchman, and his mother is a house cleaner.
1989: Simons interns for Walter Van Beirendonck while studying industrial and furniture design in Genk. Van Beirendonck takes Simons to his first fashion show, Martin Margiela’s Spring 1990 all-white show. Simons told The Gentlewoman of the event: “As a student I always thought that fashion was a bit superficial, all glitz and glamour, but this show changed everything for me. I walked out of it and I thought, That’s what I’m going to do. That show is the reason I became a fashion designer.”
1991: Simons graduates from university in Genk. While in university, he hangs out at Antwerp’s Witzli-Poetzli café and becomes friends with Olivier Rizzo, Willy Vanderperre, and Veronique Branquinho. Much of this cast of photographers, stylists, and designers remain Simons’s closest collaborators to this day.
1995: Simons founds his own menswear label and presents an early menswear collection as an 8mm film featuring Branquinho.
1997: Simons stages his menswear fashion show in Paris, held at Impasse de Mont-Louis. Models walk around overpasses in the space wearing his slim-cut and youth-inspired designs.
1998: Rizzo, Vanderperre, and Simons collaborate to photograph Robbie Snelders for the inaugural issue of V Magazine. The photo, of Snelders with Mickey Mouse painted on his face by Peter Philips wearing a Raf Simons coat, becomes the magazine’s cover and gains widespread publicity. “It wasn’t meant to be published, but then suddenly it was everywhere,” Snelders said.
1999: Simons and his then-girlfriend Branquinho are hired to design two collections for leather house Ruffo Research. Isolated Heroes, a photography tome of David Sims’s pictures of the street-cast models in Simons’s Spring 2000 show, is published, giving credence to the designer’s street-inspired and youth-focused message.
2000: Simons teaches in the fashion department at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, a position he holds for five years.