Designer Raf Simons Addresses Drug Crisis in Fashion Showcase

By Paul Gaita 02/22/18

Part of the sales from the collection will be donated to organizations that support people in recovery.

model wearing Raf Simon design that says "Drugs"
Photo via YouTube

A new line of menswear from acclaimed Belgian fashion designer Raf Simons made reference to drugs in popular culture through clothing emblazoned with the brand and street names of various substances.

The collection, which debuted on February 8 at New York Fashion Week: Men's 2018, drew a mostly positive response from media and fashion industry observers, who either questioned or confirmed Simons' intention to "consider the persistent, almost ubiquitous presence of narcotics within our society and acknowledge our often conflicted relationships with them," as he observed in the show's notes. 

The collection, called "Youth in Motion," drew inspiration from "Zoo Station: The Story of Christiane F.," a harrowing 1978 account of teenaged drug addiction in Germany that also served as the basis for director Uli Edel's 1981 film Christiane F., as well as the play Drugs, by New York downtown media icons Glenn O'Brien and Cookie Mueller. Attendees observed Simons' collection on a runway laded with decadent amounts of flowers, food and alcohol—one observer likened it to a "bacchanal"—while strobe lights and a techno soundtrack accompanied the models.

Fashionista noted that graphic prints were the "focal point" of the collection, some featuring the faces of Natja Brunckhorst and Thomas Haustein—the stars of Christiane F.—while sleeveless neon hoodies featured the word "DRUGS" in bold lettering. Other items featured patches with "LSD," "GHB" or "XTC"—all drugs with connection to the underground and club scenes—which were showcased on coats, trousers and knit scarves.

In the show's notes, Simons said that the references to the Edel film were not intended to "glorify nor condone the culture of drugs," but to serve as a touchstone for a "more nuanced dialog around the implications for a society where addiction and [its causes] remain largely taboo subjects, with—as both Christiane F. and the current opioid crisis demonstrate—often untold human consequences."

The Hollywood Reporter also noted that part of the proceeds from sales of the "Youth in Motion" collection would be donated to organizations that support people in recovery. 

Responses to the collection were mixed, with The Hollywood Reporter stating that Simons is "becoming a powerful commentator on the fading American dream," and journalist Ashley Simpson noting on Hypebeast that the collection felt "less performative or observational than a direct line to something very personal," adding that the clothes were "about drug culture but also survival, subculture and the things we latch onto to create community when we're at our most isolated."

Grailed Brand Director Lawrence Schlossman found the drug references a "bit too on the nose," but supported the "cautionary tale that informed the entire collection and the soon-to-come financial support for addiction programs."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.