Teenage Riot - Raf Simons

Looking back at his Manics inspired collection
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Looking back at the Raf Simons collection inspired by the missing Manic Street Preacher.

Since the beginning of his career, Raf Simons has been concerned with isolation. From adolescent angst, destructive pop icons and gangs of outcast teenage boys, he has dedicated his menswear collections to re-interpreting youth culture. “It always goes back to my youth,” explained Simons in a 2001 interview, “certain youth scenes and certain music styles. It always combines a very fashionable strong style, a very strong attitude, a very strong message and very strong music.” At times these influences are shown quite literally in his reference to popular music. In the late-’90s he dedicated his A/W ’98-’99 presentation Radioactivity to German electronic group Kraftwerk. Then, after being granted access to Peter Saville’s archive, he created his A/W ’03-’04 collection Closer by appropriating artwork produced for Joy Division and New Order. However, his most endearing debt to music came with his homage to Richey Edwards - the Manic Street Preachers guitarist who vanished in 1995.

Raf saw Richey as an isolated hero. Intrigued by his magnetism, he dedicated his A/W ’01-’02 collection to his infamous disappearance. The show was titled Riot, Riot, Riot and was presented in a disused factory in Paris, alongside a soundtrack of Aphex Twin, DJ Bounty Hunter, Front 22 and Dive. Models were scouted from the streets of Antwerp and walked through an industrial set filled with smoke machines and scaffolding. The clothing was just as utilitarian and was made up of a uniform code of black, brown, khaki and dark blues. Camouflage bomber jackets were layered over long coats, whilst large hoods and scarves covered the models’ faces, obscuring their identities. Raf spent a lot of time looking back at archive images of Richey, editing, appropriating and then printed them onto patches. Documents included set-lists from Richey’s time in the Manics and the ‘Have you seen Richey?’ press release issued by South West Wales Police in February 1995. One of the most iconic images used was of Richey carving ‘4 REAL’ into his forearm following an argument with journalist Steve Lamacq in 1991. The act required hospitalization, seventeen stitches and turned Richey into an icon of self-harm. These images were sewn onto jacket sleeves, plastered onto the back of coats and printed on T-shirts. Raf created a uniform: a forty-four-look tribe of Richey gang members.

The disappearance of Richey Edwards still remains unexplained. In recent years people have claimed that he had been obsessed with constructing the perfect disappearance. He was an isolated intellectual (Albert Camus and Fyodor Dostoevsky were some of the literary references that influenced his lyrics) and had the capability of performing the greatest vanishing act in the history of British music. He was last seen walking out of the Embassy Hotel in London at 7am on February 1st 1995, on the eve of the Manics’ US tour. He left nothing behind, just a note for a girl, which read: ‘I Love You’. It was reported that he gave a book of new song lyrics to the band shortly before his disappearance and then threw almost all of his notebooks into a river near his home. He also withdrew £200 cash a day in the two weeks before he vanished. Then, on Valentine’s Day, his car was found at Severn Bridges in South Wales. This is considered to be the last known location of the guitarist. Speculation arose that he may have jumped from the bridge to commit suicide and, due to the strength and depth of the water, his body was never recovered. Richey had spent years on Prozac, time in the Priory and was hospitalized for a nervous breakdown. Many of his female fans saw him as a martyr figure of self-mutilation. However, during the same year as his disappearance, he was asked about suicide and responded: “In terms of the S-word, that does not enter my mind. And it never has done, in terms of an attempt. Because I am stronger than that”. After years of investigation, Richey was officially presumed dead on 23rd November 2008.

Raf Simons spent his own teenage years isolated. He watched the punk scene emerging but was too young to be involved, and as he got older he felt detached from the youth scenes surrounding him. Music was his only form of escapism. Even now, Raf is alien in his own industry - he doesn’t reference fashion history but revisits his own archive. He looks to the past to construct a strange depiction of the future. Or, in the case of the Richey Edwards collection, he created a very real one consisting of riots, gangs and youth culture. At times he has spoken of an interzone - a feeling that you are witnessing something to come - and although his references are rooted in the past his presentations are always atmospheric, pioneering and strangely futuristic. Raf wasn’t a big Manic Street Preachers fan, but he saw Richey as a fellow outsider and identified with him. The result: a collection that placed the obsessive youth codes of the Manics into the realms of high-end menswear.

Words by Isabella Burley

Read an interview with Manic Street Preachers' Nicky Wire on Raf Simons' Richey Edwards inspired collection, the band's early years and his memories of the missing band member.

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