Get to Know Raf Simons, the New Designer at DiorS

Fashion writer Suzy Menkes is reporting at the International Herald-Tribune that Dior is set to announce tomorrow that Belgian-born designer Raf Simons will be taking the reins at the fashion house. Dior has been without an artistic director for more than a year, ever since longtime designer John Galliano was fired following his arrest — and eventual conviction — for using hate speech. (That would be the infamous "I love Hitler" speech.) Although the creative interregnum has not hurt Dior's financials, the collections overseen by a former Galliano studio head did receive mixed-to-condemnatory reviews from critics.

So who is Raf Simons? He's 44, and studied industrial design, not fashion design. His training, coupled with his work for Jil Sander, a house with a strong minimalist aesthetic, means that the adjective perhaps most commonly applied to his work by critics is "architectural." Two months ago, when Simons was ditched by the label Jil Sander, speculation that he would be in line for the job at Dior immediately followed. It took a while — and a few more turns of the rumor cycle — but today Simons says, "I feel fantastic. It is one of the ultimate challenges, and a dream to go to a place like Dior, which stands for absolute elegance, incredible femininity and utter luxury."

Get to Know Raf Simons, the New Designer at DiorS

Before he took over at Jil Sander in 2005, Simons was known mainly as a (highly influential) designer of men's wear at the label he founded in 1995. His most recent collection, pictured, had lots of animals in it. Simons continues to live and work out of his studio in Antwerp. The designer is a winner of the prestigious Swiss Textiles Award and from 2000-2005 he served as the head of the fashion school at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. Simons is the son of a cleaner and a night watchman; he told Menkes that his interest in design arose because he saw it as a pathway that led beyond his strict Catholic upbringing, and a profession that wasn't law or medicine.

Get to Know Raf Simons, the New Designer at DiorS

Simons' collections for Jil Sander have not been widely adopted by celebrities, perhaps because they tend to lack the overt glitz that is these days virtually synonymous with red-carpet dressing. Tilda Swinton has been a notable exception. The actress frequently wears Simons' clothes. Ellen DeGeneres has also said that she often wears Jil Sander.

For the 2010 film I Am Love, Swinton's character, Emma Recchi, dressed exclusively in Simons. The designer re-made a grey fall-winter 2008 shift dress in red specially for the film. "I always loved Raf Simons' work," Swinton said of the collaboration. "I am in love with his artistry."

Get to Know Raf Simons, the New Designer at DiorS

Simons' heavily fringed Jil Sander collection of spring-summer 2009 was also pretty popular with celebrities — pieces from it are seen here worn by Nicole Kidman and Miranda Kerr.

Get to Know Raf Simons, the New Designer at DiorS

Kerr was one of the faces of the Jil Sander fall-winter 2010 ad campaign.

Get to Know Raf Simons, the New Designer at DiorS

But it was Simons' spring-summer 2011 collection for Jil Sander that seemed to make the biggest splash when it comes to starting trends. The bright colors and painterly prints were very influential. And I'm still kind of doing that hot-pink lipstick thing.

Get to Know Raf Simons, the New Designer at DiorS

But more than anything else, it was the wide stripes in that collection that were widely copied. It helped, of course, that Prada also featured stripes that season. And lo, stripes were everywhere!

Get to Know Raf Simons, the New Designer at Dior

Fashion's top brass, like Anna Dello Russo, pictured, quickly jumped on the collection. Image via Jak & Jil.

Get to Know Raf Simons, the New Designer at DiorS

Willy Van Der Perre's dreamy seasonal ad campaign certainly didn't hurt.

Get to Know Raf Simons, the New Designer at DiorS

And nor did all the reams of editorial coverage the collection got.

Get to Know Raf Simons, the New Designer at DiorS

Simons' spring-summer 2012 collection earned perhaps the most effusive critical reception of Simons' career. Cathy Horyn called it "firmly modernist" and "gorgeously and surprisingly expansive." In the move beyond minimalism — at a time when Dior was still rudderless — observers saw a designer auditioning for something greater.

Though he does not share the penchant for theatricality so evident in his immediate predecessor's work, Simons says that he finds Christian Dior's back catalogue inspirational. "I find that period between 1947 and 1957 extremely attractive, and there was a lot of modernity. There was the romantic appeal looking back to his mother and the belle époque, but there was also a constant evolution in shape, changing proportions and the ideas connected to the World War were revolutionary." His first collection for Dior will be couture this summer.

Dior Turns To Raf Simons [IHT]