What happened: On November 21, Belgian fashion designer Raf Simons announced that he is shuttering his eponymous 27-year-old brand. In a statement on Instagram, the creative visionary confirmed the closure, adding: “I lack the words to share how proud I am of all that we have achieved.” He then went on to thank his team, buyers, fans, friends, family, and collaborators.
The latest Spring 23 collection will therefore be Raf Simons’ last. It also means that there will be no more of his Adidas footwear, which has been a trailblazer among sports-high fashion crossovers since the first Ozweegos, Terrex, and Response Trail 1 sneakers were revealed at Paris Fashion Week in 2013.
In conversation with Jing Daily, sneaker journalist Ross Dwyer said, “what’s most interesting to me about Raf Simons’ sneaker collaborations is how ahead of his time he was.” When the designer started working with Adidas, the high-fashion trainer was nowhere near today’s level of hype and mainstream acceptance. “The shoes that came out of those partnerships were ‘designer’s sneakers’ instead of ‘designer sneakers’ if that makes sense,” explained Dwyer.
The Jing Take: The growth of luxury athleisure collaborations has been well reflected in Raf Simons’ output with the leading sportswear name. It took time for consumers to fall in love with his experimentally garish Ozweego designs; they did not sell well for the first two years, forever landing in the discount sections. But that cartoonishly oversized footwear actually became one of the luxury label’s most reliable signatures in sportswear, always selling out.
By 2015, all the most esteemed luxury houses were producing their own chunky runner silhouettes, attesting to the collab’s bankability. Right now, on Chinese StockX Dewu, the original Ozweego by Raf Simons has outsold all styles, currently at 178,000 sales — almost 10 times the sales of Adidas’ solo design of the same silhouette — illustrating the popularity has reached China.
Now, nearly two decades later, many are claiming sneaker culture has reached boiling point. Is it coincidental that the Belgian brand is closing at such a time, moving away from Adidas drops before the shoe’s popularity finally wanes (if it ever does)?
Raf Simons’ termination certainly spurs reflection upon his leading influence in the streetwear space and, rather notably, in sneakers. As Dwyer noted, “Raf’s contributions to sneaker collaboration were both deeply respectful and inherently free-spirited. I don’t think we’d see a lot of the partnerships we see today if they didn’t have the impact they did back then.”
And although in the (pretentious) world of sneakers the Raf Simons x Adidas takes did not necessarily become the holy grail — they generally sold below retail on resale sites, and cannot be compared to coveted styles like Aimé Leon Dore’s New Balances or the Fragment x Sacai x Nike drops — their role in pushing fashion’s embrace of sportswear was never in question. People did pay above the average price of an Adidas for each style yet prices were generally accessible, with a pair of Raf Simons slides going for $130 (930 RMB), which is $95 (679 RMB) more than the classics.
It was not only Raf Simons’ consumers shopping for them though. These collaborations helped merge the camps of sneakerheads and fashion fans, paving the way for today’s solid generation of hypebeasts. After all, the world-famous ASAP Mob even dedicated a whole song to Raf Simons’ Adidas sneakers — their positioning within popular culture is momentous. In short, the Belgian designer was one of the great innovators in sportswear collaborations, walking so that designers such as Wales Bonner, Gucci, and Balenciaga could all run confidently with Adidas.
It’s too early to predict whether this means that these sneakers are going to reach high price premiums, though it is highly likely. But if luxury lines can learn anything from Raf Simons’ partnership with the German sports powerhouse, it’s that long-term footwear tie-ups can be a reliable route for popular cultural stability.
Adidas can thank Raf Simons for feeding its position within luxury fashion, and the Belgian label, in return, owes a lot of its mainstream admiration to the sports brand.
The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.