Raf Simons has become one of fashion’s most central and celebrated figures since entering the industry in 1995, thanks to his work at his eponymous menswear label and stints as creative director at Jil Sander and Dior and as chef creative officer at Calvin Klein.

Throughout his 20-year career, Simons has established himself with a youth-centric vision that reframed pop culture and art through the lens of clothing. His eponymous label has seen him collaborate many times with Sterling Ruby; at Jil Sander he offered homages to Picasso; at Dior he paid tribute to Flemish masters and Andy Warhol, and printed Ruby’s paintings on couture gowns; and at Calvin Klein he undertook the largest project to date with the Andy Warhol Foundation, while simultaneously lifting references to films like The Graduate and Jaws for his collections.

As Simons departs Calvin Klein, a look back on what made him one of the most influential designers of the past two decades.

1968

Raf Simons is born in the small town of Neerpelt, Belgium. His father is a night watchman, and his mother is a house cleaner.

1989

raf simons

Photo: Jean-Claude Coutausse

Simons interns for Walter Van Beirendonck while studying industrial and furniture design in Genk. Van Beirendonck takes Simons to his first fashion show, Martin Margiela’s Spring 1990 all-white show. Simons told The Gentlewoman of the event: “As a student I always thought that fashion was a bit superficial, all glitz and glamour, but this show changed everything for me. I walked out of it and I thought, That’s what I’m going to do. That show is the reason I became a fashion designer.”

1991

raf simons

Photo: Courtesy of Witzli-Poetzli café

Simons graduates from university in Genk. While in university, he hangs out at Antwerp’s Witzli-Poetzli café and becomes friends with Olivier Rizzo, Willy Vanderperre, and Veronique Branquinho. Much of this cast of photographers, stylists, and designers remain Simons’s closest collaborators to this day.

1995

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Photo: Courtesy of In The Name of Raf

Simons founds his own menswear label and presents an early menswear collection as an 8mm film featuring Branquinho.

1997

Simons stages his menswear fashion show in Paris, held at Impasse de Mont-Louis. Models walk around overpasses in the space wearing his slim-cut and youth-inspired designs.

1998

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Photo: Courtesy of Charta

Rizzo, Vanderperre, and Simons collaborate to photograph Robbie Snelders for the inaugural issue of V Magazine. The photo, of Snelders with Mickey Mouse painted on his face by Peter Philips wearing a Raf Simons coat, becomes the magazine’s cover and gains widespread publicity. “It wasn’t meant to be published, but then suddenly it was everywhere,” Snelders said.

1999

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Photo: Courtesy of Raf Simons Office

Simons and his then-girlfriend Branquinho are hired to design two collections for leather house Ruffo Research.

Isolated Heroes, a photography tome of David Sims’s pictures of the street-cast models in Simons’s Spring 2000 show, is published, giving credence to the designer’s street-inspired and youth-focused message.

2000

raf simons

Simons teaches in the fashion department at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, a position he holds for five years.

2001

raf simons

Photo: firstVIEW

For Spring 2002, Simons cloaks his models in face-covering garments and sends them out on the runway carrying lit flares. The visual is haunting, inspired by recent acts of terror in major cities around the world. The fashion show predates September 11 by two months.

2005

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Photo: firstVIEW

Simons’s eponymous menswear label celebrates its 10th anniversary at Pitti Uomo with a series of parties, publications, and a fashion show in Florence’s Boboli Garden.

2006

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Photo: Condé Nast Archive

Hired to design men’s and womenswear for Jil Sander in 2005, Simons presents his first collection for Fall 2006. His debut is hailed as bringing a new sexuality to the house while still being reverent to Sander’s minimalist roots.

September 2008

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Photo: Marcio Madeira; Getty Images

Jil Sander’s Spring 2009 collection centers around a series of fringe dresses draped in sexy and revealing ways. Miranda Kerr sports a look from the collection to the 2009 Met Gala, bringing further attention to Simons’s work.

2010-2012

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Photo: Monica Fedui / GoRunway.com

Beginning with his Spring 2011 show and continuing through his Fall 2012 one, Simons delves deep into couture ideas at Jil Sander. The collections mix his streetwise sensibility—Spring 2011 features gowns to look like T-shirts tucked into skirts—with his skill as a craftsman. His final show for Jil Sander, for Fall 2012, is met with tears not only from Simons, but from some of his audience.

April 2012

raf simons

Photo: Yannis Vlamos / GoRunway.com

Shortly after parting ways with Jil Sander, Simons is hired as the creative director for Dior. His first collection is for Fall 2012 Haute Couture and is presented in a hôtel particulier decked out with millions of flowers by his go-to florist, Mark Colle. Drawing on Monsieur Dior’s signatures, Simons riffs on the femme fleur and Bar jacket with aplomb.

2013

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Photo: Melodie Jeng

A longtime wearer of Adidas’s Stan Smith sneaker, Simons inks a deal with the athletic company to create collaborative collections. His updates to the Stan Smith, in vibrant colors and with a perforated “R” detail, become instant hits.

January 2013

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Photo: Marcus Tondo / InDigitalteam | GoRunway; Getty Images

Simons stages Dior’s Spring 2013 Haute Couture collection in Paris. One of the finale gowns, a bulb-skirted pale pink number, is chosen by Jennifer Lawrence for that year’s Academy Awards. Not only did she win the Oscar for her work in Silver Linings Playbook, but she also tripped up the stairs to the stage, cementing Simons’s dress in pop culture history.

January 2014

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Photo: Yannis Vlamos / Indigitalimages.com; Getty Images

Los Angeles–based artist Sterling Ruby and Simons collaborate on a menswear collection for Fall 2014 that draws upon shared references and obsessions like American culture, heritage, and artistic process. The pieces achieve grail status in the menswear market.

April 2015

Dior and I, a documentary by Frédéric Tcheng, premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival. The movie depicts Simons’s first months as creative director of the house leading up to his debut show for Fall 2012 Haute Couture.

May 2015

Dior stages its Resort collection at Pierre Cardin’s home in the South of France, the Palais Bulles.

October 2015

Simons presents his Spring 2016 collection for Dior, inspired by purity and the quasi-Victorian outfits in Picnic at Hanging Rock. Later in the month of October, he resigns from his post at Dior, shocking the industry. His decision to leave Diorturns him into Google’s top trending fashion designer of the year.

June 2016

Raf Simons

Photo: Getty Images

Simons presents his Spring 2017 collection to Florence’s Pitti Uomo fair. The 57-look collection is a collaboration with the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation and features the iconic photographer’s work as a part of every look.

Photo: Courtesy of Calvin Klein / @calvinklein

August 2016

Simons is named chief creative officer of Calvin Klein. In this role he will oversee all the brand’s many subsets, from Calvin Klein Collection to Calvin Klein Home, as well as all its marketing, communications, and visual creative services. His longtime right hand, Pieter Mulier, who you might remember from Dior and I, will be the creative director, reporting directly to Simons.

February 2017

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Photo: Indigital.tv

Simons rechristens the brand’s runway collections Calvin Klein 205W39NYC and presents his first show at New York Fashion Week in the brand’s headquarters with a set by Sterling Ruby. “With outsiders’ perspectives, Simons and Mulier riffed on Americanisms, including brightly colored band uniforms, Wall Street suits, sheriff’s jackets, quilting on some terrific men’s parkas—make those for women, too, please!—and metal-tipped cowboy boots. They devoted a fair bit of attention to the great American plastic couch cover, slipping transparent plastic over everything from plaid tailoring to a sensational yellow-gold fur coat and feathered cocktail numbers,” wrote Nicole Phelps in her review.

June 2017

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Photo: Indigital.tv

Simons wins the menswear and womenswear designer of the year awards for his Calvin Klein collections from the CFDA. Technically, designers are meant to have presented two full collections to be eligible for the prize, but for Simons, the rules don’t apply. He is the first designer to win both the men’s and women’s award in the same year since Calvin Klein himself in 1993.

July 2017

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Photo: Indigital.tv

After presenting his Fall 2017 Raf Simons collection in Gagosian’s 24th street space, Simons headed to the back lot of an East Broadway mall to show a menswear collection for Spring 2018 that riffed on Blade Runner, New Order, and plenty of his classic references. “It’s about cultures sliding together—that’s the most important message for me, Asian culture and the culture of the west coming together. And you know there was a bit of new wave, punk attitude, but not aesthetically, more in the attitude like taking different kinds of things. . . I wanted it to be energetic,” Simons told Vogue. It was a boon for the New York menswear scene, something talked abut for months to come.

January 2018

Kardashian Sisters

Photo: Courtesy of Calvin Klein

Simons shocks much of the fashion world when he announces the Kardashian-Jenner family as the new faces of Calvin Klein Underwear and Calvin Klein Jeans. Part of a family campaign that also starred Solange Knowles and A$AP Rocky, the Kardashian-Jenner sisters sung Simons’s praises. “Raf had this American vision in a barn with my family,” said Kim, with Kendall adding, “Everything we wore, the ranch where we shot it—it was all iconic.”

February 2018

Photo: Indigital.tv

It was the crunch heard around the fashion world. Underfoot of front row guests like Nicole Kidman, Lupita Nyong’o, and Millie Bobbie Brown was popcorn—so much that the entire floor of the former New York Stock Exchange was covered in about eight inches of it. Within the space, Simons had erected his most theatrical set for Calvin Klein yet: semi-abandoned barns printed with the works of Andy Warhol and complemented by more works by Sterling Ruby. On the Fall 2018 runway, Simons and Mulier offered hazmat suits, fireman coats, prairie dresses, and pastel tailoring. The balaclavas were instant hits.

2017-2018

Saoirse Ronan

Photo: Courtesy of Saoirse Ronan

Simons’s Calvin Klein takes hold with celebrities from Saoirse Ronan to Odell Beckham Jr. to RuPaul, who wear full CK looks to the Oscars, the Emmys, and the football stadium.

December 2018

raf simons

Photo: Indigital.tv

Simons and Calvin Klein part ways. After a nearly two year experiment in restructuring a massive American brand, the designer and the management are said to have clashed, resulting in the split. Simons will continue to operate his eponymous collection out of Antwerp.

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