I would never, ever call myself a “fashion designer”. Why? Because I never went to fashion school. My “school” was the experiences that led me here; emigrating to Italy from Argentina just as I became a teenager, clubbing in Rimini and Riccione back in the days when you would see Marc Jacobs and Jean Paul Gaultier on the dancefloor, then moving to Milan to DJ, promote parties, do PR for young designers, and later act as a consultant who brought fashion houses together with the people in the club scene.
Absolutely one of my biggest influences along the way has been Raf Simons. Most fashion designers are not on the streets – they might go there to steal ideas and get inspired but they are not really there – but Raf always has been. He was always related to techno and new wave. He broke the rules to give a voice to people in the niche – to kids.
I had always followed Simons’s work, but it was when he brought it to Italy and I could see it for myself that it affected me most powerfully. The first time was in 2003 at an exhibition in Florence called “The Fourth Sex: Adolescent Extremes”. This was a book project that Simons curated that gathered photography and writing dedicated to every splinter of adolescence – youth tribes – and brought them all together. You could see the spirit they had in common, and relish their differences. It was about that weird and powerful moment we all have, being teen.
Then in 2005 he came back to Pitti to hold the most incredible show for his tenth anniversary as a designer. It was held in the Boboli Gardens, one of the most important and beautiful gardens in Italy, in front of the fountain of Neptune.
The models were not professionals but boys who had been cast on the street by a German agency called Nine Daughters and a Stereo: it was a real mix of characters, different races and shapes and outlooks – they were everything but the same. At first you couldn’t see them because they stood far above us on a hill, and slowly walked down, past the fountain, down the steps and onto the runway. As they came closer in that huge and beautiful formal space you gradually saw the different character in each one, which was heightened by the difference in the clothes they wore. The clothes were tools for showing your character – your true character – and not disguises.
Back then I had started styling for fashion magazines too, and this show really inspired me. It took me seven years after that to decide to get out of working for other people and set up on my own, but the influence of Raf stayed strong. When I am casting my catwalk today I look around the world and I always look for character – that’s something I learned from him. All the kids who are buying my stuff now want to belong to a tribe, they want to show that they belong, and that is something that Raf really understood first without being cynical about it.
You know, not long after that show Raf moved to Milan to design for Jil Sander. Back then I used to do a club night called Pink Is Punk where the kids would dance all night in the dark, and Raf would often be in there dancing too. Whether you’ve been to fashion school or not I think this is very important – to stay connected to your audience, and music, and culture. Otherwise you are just a superstar who stays up in a podium looking down on people – and you can’t really connect. That’s what Raf has done: connected. Today he is huge in youth culture, all the rappers talk about him, and A$AP Mob* just did a track dedicated to him. The reason why is that he speaks the language. It’s not marketing, it’s feeling.
*“RAF” includes the lyrics:
It’s rare Raf when I wear Raf
Bare Raf when I wear Raf
Might invest into some Raf shares.