When David Casavant first began collecting the designs of Raf Simons as a teenager, the Belgian designer’s visionary aesthetic had yet to reach peak demand. The largely niche garments, including now-iconic patched upcycled bombers and reappropriated graphic tees, were readily accessible for Casavant, now 26, to purchase online and at thrift stores. Today, youth rebellion references and simple, street-forward men’s silhouettes—Simons’ signatures—are standard in contemporary fashion, propelling Casavant’s particularly forward-thinking after-school habit into The David Casavant Archive, the museum-like collection which he runs today.
Casavant’s stock of vintage Simons is rented and worn by style icons such as Kanye West and Rihanna and frequently perused by fashion designers for research on their own collections. “The clothes Raf designed in the past still feel relevant today, because they’re inspired by the same streetwear and military-wear that modern menswear is based on,” Casavant says. “He was the first to really get that started.”
Simons, who launched his namesake men’s collection in 1995 after studying fashion at Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts, has since worked as creative director for Jil Sander and Dior before assuming his current role as chief creative officer at Calvin Klein. Through these positions, the designer’s subtle, sensitive aesthetic has permeated the industry: everyday silhouettes and subcultures are now championed in high fashion.
One of Casavant’s key pieces, a hoodie from the Raf Simons Fall 2003 collection, best represents the designer’s use of reappropriation (decades before the fashion world embraced it en masse). The baggy pullover features New Order’s 1983 Power, Corruption & Lies album art, which graphic designer Peter Saville created using a reproduction of Henri Fantin-Latour’s “A Basket of Roses.” Lifted from London’s National Museum, Saville argued the French painting was public domain and ultimately reclaimed it as his own.
This same mentality was employed for Simons’ recent New York Fashion Week debut, where he reworked the city’s iconic “I [Heart] New York” logo for his Fall 2017 menswear collection. Graphic designer Milton Glaser’s tourist-friendly typography was reimagined onto slouchy, rough-knit sweaters and layered sashes.
Sometimes Simons “flat out doesn’t design,” says Casavant, admiring the designer’s straightforward decision-making. “What’s most appealing about Raf’s clothes is that you can read into it as much or as little as you’d like. I think that’s what makes good art and, in this case, interesting fashion.”