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A Meeting of the Minds

Raf Simons x Peter Saville, A Meeting of the Minds

For his Fall/Winter 2003 collection, Raf Simons was granted full access to the archives of Peter Saville, a living legend known for his graphic design work, much of which takes the form of record sleeves. Saville, who was honored with the prestigious London Design Medal in 2013, started art school in the mid-1970's and then began working with Factory Records shortly thereafter.

A partner in the Manchester-based label, as well as its artistic director, Saville was tasked with the creation of the Factory artists' record sleeves, although he got his start designing posters for The Haçienda nightclub, which was run by the label. Inspired by Kraftwerk, a German electronic music band formed by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider in 1970 and a favorite of Raf Simons, and their Autobahn album sleeve, Saville went on to design the sleeves for Joy Division and New Order, among others. Rarely given any direction from bands regarding the artwork, Saville says, "I was left to my own devices … I never had to answer to anyone." This was especially true given the "non-commercially structured" nature of Factory, which "allowed us to make statements that we believed in and wanted to make, without much compromise," says Saville.

Beginning in the mid-1980's (when fashion culture was being commercialized by high street chains, not unlike it is today), Saville was invited by an array of admirers to work on projects outside of the music industry. It was during this time that he started working in fashion; he created advertising campaigns for Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto and for John Galliano, who was serving as creative director of Christian Dior at the time. He continued to design album sleeves, such as those for Britpop bands, Pulp and Suede, and worked as a consultant for fashion houses that ranged from Stella McCartney to Givenchy. Then, in 2000, along with Nick Knight, he launched SHOWstudio, a digital platform that has since pioneered fashion film (a project with which he is no longer associated).

Meanwhile, Belgium-born Raf Simons, a formally trained industrial designer graduated from a small university in the Belgian city of Genk in 1991, and trained with Antwerp Six member Walter Van Beirendonck. Upon attending Martin Margiela’s all-white collection show that year with Van Beirendonck, Simons shifted his focus away from furniture design to fashion. Almost entirely self-trained, Simons launched his eponymous label in 1995 in Antwerp. His first few collections were based almost entirely on motifs of subverted school uniforms combined with recurrent references to rave, punk and new-wave. Specifically, this took the form of close-fitting, uniform-inflected tailoring mixed with edgy, youth-culture references: slashed garments, leather, and slouchy knits, and complete with "models" street casted at Antwerp’s common teenage hangouts.

The youth references, themselves, have varied quite a bit: taking the form of classic Americana varsity sweatshirts, complete with a "Youngsville University" insignia and prep school blazers paired with shorts (for A/W 1997, editorials for which included boys and girls); the corresponding S/S collection, entitled Teenage Summer Camp (which was emblazoned on the back of workwear shirts, along with the locale "Salt Lake,") was complete with sleeve-less tees bearing a packing list of sorts -- one read: "I have 2 pairs of black jeans, 2 turtle necks, 2 tee shirts" and so on; another with the word "Generation" printed on it a handful of times or the word "Teenage;" and more knitwear.

Writing about the eighties revival in 2000, Vogue’s Hamish Bowles noted that Simons’s “menswear aesthetic champions the robotic look that Kraftwerk’s Ralf, Florian, Karl, and Wolfgang developed.” He has since been labelled by the New York Times' former fashion director, Cathy Horyn in 2005, as "probably the most influential menswear designer of the last decade," certainly referring, at least in part, to his introduction of the the slim cut silhouette in 1995, as distinct from the boxier, roomier shapes that preceded it. That same year stylist/editor Marie-Amélie Sauve (Nicolas Ghesquiere's right hand at Balenciaga), told the New York Times Magazine: "[Raf Simons] did everything before anyone else, and everybody has copied him."

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