The month of October saw two high profile departures at top fashion houses that left the industry reeling. Raf Simons stepped down at Dior and Alber Elbaz left Lanvin after fourteen years. In the days that followed, there were employee protests, rumored legal threats and lots of speculation about fashion burnout.
Now, two weeks after news of the first shocking exit, we may finally have some answers. Raf Simons spoke with famed journalist Cathy Horyn over a 6-month period for an interview in System Magazine and their last meeting ended days before his big announcement. Their talk sheds light on Simons’ state of mind during his final year at Dior. He speaks about the lack of a work/life balance, the dizzying speed at which he’s expected to create and his exasperating schedule, all of which left him creatively and emotionally drained.
Here are excerpts from the interview, which appears in the Autumn/Winter 2015 issue of System Magazine:
On the increasingly short prep time for collections:
“You know, we did this collection in three weeks,” he tells me, not defending the show but, rather, stating the reality that now faces high-fashion houses. “Tokyo was also done in three weeks. Actually everything is done in three weeks, maximum five. And when I think back to the first couture show for Dior, in July 2012, I was concerned because we only had eight weeks.”
On how the speed of fashion stifles creativity:
“When you do six shows a year, there’s not enough time for the whole process,” he explains. “Technically, yes — the people who make the samples, do the stitching, they can do it. But you have no incubation time for ideas, and incubation time is very important. When you try an idea, you look at it and think, Hmm, let’s put it away for a week and think about it later. But that’s never possible when you have only one team working on all the collections. […] “Also,” he goes on, “what people forget is that when you do a runway show, it eats time away from your schedule. Just the prep time before a show is six or seven days, especially when you are showing abroad. So you’re constantly creating,” I say, “with no time.” “But I have no problem with the continuous creative process,” he says. […] “I’ve been doing this my whole life. The problem is when you have only one design team and six collections, there is no more thinking time. And I don’t want to do collections where I’m not thinking.”
On his impossible schedule:
“I have a schedule every day that begins at 10 in the morning and runs through the day, and every, every minute is filled. From 10.10am to 10.30am, it’s shoes, let’s say. From 10.30 to 11.15, it’s jewellery. Everything is timed — the whole week. If there’s a delay in a meeting, the whole day is fucked up […] What are you going to do? Walk out of the office at 8 o’clock at night? No, of course not. So you stay there until midnight.”
On being emotionally unfulfilled:
“So, in spite of the incredible pressures, your system seems to work?” I ask. “Technically speaking, it works. Does it work for me emotionally? No, because I’m not the kind of person who likes to do things so fast. I think if I had more time, I would reject more things, and bring other ideas or concepts in. But that’s also not necessarily better. Sometimes you can work things to death when you take too much time.”
On his lack of a personal life:
A few weeks later I hear from Raf again. It is a Friday evening (his time), and he is with his driver travelling from Antwerp to Paris. Sheepishly, he reveals that he was leaving the next day to spend the weekend at Disneyland Paris with his boyfriend. Hearing my snort, he chuckles and says, “I actually like that kind of thing, believe it or not.” I don’t, but decide to leave it. During his first two years at Dior, Raf rarely took breaks. He would work non-stop for four or five weeks, running up to Antwerp to check on his own business, and then he’d be back in the grind of Paris — and complaining that he didn’t have a normal life. So the news that he had done something about it was positive. He said he had been spending weekends with his boyfriend’s large family in the south of France, exploring villages and just hanging out.
On constantly feeling exasperated and needing a way out:
Raf suddenly lets out a grunt. “You should see us here. We left Antwerp two hours ago and were supposed to arrive in Paris at 8.30 tonight. But we’re in a traffic jam, and won’t arrive until 9.50. I’m supposed to meet someone for dinner. This is the feeling I have all the time,” he continues, clearly exasperated. “There’s never enough time. You get a tension. I know how to pull out from this in my personal life. We go and look at nature for three hours. It’s heaven. We go to a bakery and buy a bag of stuff and lie in the grass. Sublime. But how to do that in the context of your professional life? You buy a house and you start doing pottery or something?” He sighs. “Don’t do pottery, Raf,” I say.
[via Business of Fashion]