Authenticity and Appropriation: Raf Simons, “How to Talk to Your Teen”

In this Series I want to discuss the role of appropriation of youth subculture in the garment designs of Raf Simons. Raf Simons has made his name in synthesizing elements of youth culture into his aesthetic as a means of positioning himself outside the world of high fashion, but in showing these garments within the paradigm of traditional fashion he seems to present them as a contradiction. How can one celebrate a very anti-material youth subculture while presenting garments that only a few wealthy individuals could enjoy? This week I will be begin looking at Raf Simons and his unique way of dealing with authenticity. First, with his collection ss97 (How to Talk to your Teen) I will discuss how ambivalence of traditional notions towards authenticity is inherent in his work.  In subsequent columns I will look at “Woe onto those who spit on the fear generation… the wind will blow it back” and “Consumed” This very short survey of his work is not comprehensive, but provide moments in Raf’s career that I believe shed light on this notion of authenticity in fashion.
Ss 97, “How to talk to your teen,” is important because it establishes youth subculture not just as a site of aesthetic appreciation for Raf, but also as a site of literal alienation from society (the narrative of the collection presents 14 teenagers who escape from society in an imaginary U.F.O where they can indulge in their fantasies). In terms of design, Raf would borrow elements from Mod and Punk culture and synthesize it with elements of traditional schoolboy uniforms. Coupling subversion with popular tradition, it seems Raf is aware of a contradiction in his work. Raf’s designs seem to be concerned about discussing the inherent contradiction in a sort of pseudo-punk aesthetic and embracing this aesthetic as a site of escape and fantasy. By pseudo-punk I mean someone who enjoys the aesthetics of being a punk but afraid to let go of a comfortable middle class lifestyle. In presenting this aesthetic in the glamorous world of fashion Raf embraces this pseudo-punk aesthetic rather than demeans it. Raf then frees himself from issues of authenticity because his work is inherently inauthentic. Thus, Raf’s designs are ambivalent of traditional notions of authenticity – almost a rebellion from the rebellious.

Next week I will continue to discuss Raf Simons design by looking at his most famous collection, “Woe onto those who spit on the fear generation…the wind will blow it back.”

Images from Contemporary Fashion Archive and

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