Backstage at a Raf Simons show is one of the few places you can find a decent meal here at Paris Fashion Week, and the models love him for it. It's a mutual admiration - he greets each one warmly by name as they enter the venue. With 30 minutes before the scheduled starting time, the scene in hair and makeup was one of stressful energy and frenzied pace. Boys who'd arrived late from the show before were sitting in the makeup chairs being worked on by multiple people. Two dry-shampooing their hair, one on makeup, another looking out for stray hairs to shave. Sure they're a naturally good canvas, but it takes a whole team to get these guys runway ready.
Fifteen minutes to go and the models were all lined up for their walk-through. A circular catwalk with stairs and an unusual photographer's pit location meant two trial-runs were needed to ensure a flawless real-deal performance. Of the 25-odd boys present, three were Antipodeans - Aucklander Michael Whittaker, expat Kiwi Aiden Andrews and androgynous rising star Australian Andrej Pejic. Australia's numbers were made up by the senior makeup artist (another expat) and the ubiquitous photographer Sonny Vandevelde. There are only two rules backstage - no photos allowed of the designer, and make sure you're out before the show begins. I heeded both and left just before the lights came up.
There was a definite male nurse/inpatient aspect to this, Raf Simons' 15th anniversary collection, with its white smocks and open-zipped backs, like one might see in a designer hospital sometime in the distant future. Or on a wetsuit - the designer claimed surfing as a reference. Gone were the skinny pants of the past few Raf collections, replaced with oxford bags in white and black. Those overskirts from Winter were back though, this time in a tight miniskirt variety, echoing the pockets of the trousers on which they sat, and accentuating the curves of the bottoms over which they stretched. Shorts came in two varieties - low crotched and square like culottes, or tight like a biker's lycra numbers.
This was a true summer collection, one of the first we've seen all season. The colours - white, avocado, fleshy pink, magenta (all found in a medical institution) - were light enough for the warmer months. The shapes, while challenging, were all appropriate for heat. How wearable the collection will be is debatable - it might be a hard sell to get your typical guy into a suit with a multicoloured zipper running down the back. But then again, the more outlandish pieces only served to make the traditional seem even more covetable in the end. The final couple of outfits were dark suits - Raf Simons narrow, with pulled in waists. But it's the tee shirts we'll be seeing on (or off if you don't do up the zipper) all backs come summertime. They were white with a graphic image of a menage-à-trois in full swing alongside the words, 'HOW WE WOULD MAKE LOVE'.
When it was all said and done the crowd applauded for twice as long as they usually would at a fashion show, but it was nothing like what was going on backstage. I sprinted down the stairs to find an American sporting kind of chant: "Raf! Raf! Raf! Raf!" accompanied by ecstatic cheers and clapping. If you're still provoking those kinds of reactions from the team and the fans after 15 years in business, you know you're onto a good thing.