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Raf’s Big Shoulders

Raf Simons’s announcement could be NYFW: Men’s saving grace.

Photo of Raf Simons Photo: Antonio de Moraes Barros Filho/Getty Images

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Suddenly, there's something electric in the air surrounding New York Fashion Week’s dedicated men’s shows. Critics have previously used a couple words, all in the same theme, to describe the week: “sucks,” “doesn’t work,” and “has an identity crisis.” Even I’ve said that the necessity for it is diminishing. But today I say, Raf Simons, Raf Simons, Raf Simons, and Raf Simons.

Menswear’s biggest crush announced Friday that he'll show his namesake collection during NYFW:M; he typically shows at Paris Fashion Week. It's the kind of announcement that makes a world of difference. Think of it in terms of a music festival, and Raf is the one drawing the crowds. He's a Beyoncé or a Kanye in an industry when almost everyone else is just a step below — think J.Cole, The Weeknd, Calvin Harris; all suitable acts, but not the kind of headliner that puts an otherwise unknown event on the map. Sure, people go to see the other acts, but it's never in doubt who they're really there to see.

Even when Raf was announced as Calvin Klein's new creative director, there was the sense that a new set of batteries had been plugged into New York Fashion Week in general. Calvin Klein's fall/winter 2017 show in February will no doubt be the hottest ticket on NYFW's calendar, but even more than that, he's a reason to come out. It makes NYFW an event that press and buyers can't miss, leave early from, or not have their eyeballs on. Raf is now pulling double duty because he's done the same thing for NYFW:M. A rising tide raises all ships, and with a new audience there to see Raf, that means a new audience is also there to see the type of emerging talent that NYFW:M trades in.

The same could be said of Pitti Uomo, which was lucky enough to host Simons’s spring 2017 runway show over the summer. The trade show, which has gained the reputation of being a zoo for peacocks, was again a crucial destination for buyers and editors because his shows demand coverage. He must be interviewed, he must be analyzed, he must be talked about simply because the interest is there. He's among a select few designers — Hedi Slimane, Rick Owens, Phoebe Philo — that stir intrigue even in people who have only dipped their toes into the fashion and menswear worlds.

I've argued that the need for men's fashion week is dissipating, but Raf’s news changes a lot of that. The Belgian designer has always been a champion of the menswear world — and his namesake line, though admired by women, has never split off into womenswear. And that's not to say Raf would be completely out of place if not for this dedicated men's week, but he certainly injects it with a sense of purpose.

“The CFDA is delighted to add Raf Simons to NYFW: Men’s,” Steven Kolb, president and CEO of the CFDA, said in a press release. “Raf is one of the most influential designers on the international fashion stage. His creativity and energy are a welcome addition as we continue to grow this important platform for American menswear.”

In the television industry, there's something called a tentpole program — your Seinfelds or The Simpsons that carry a network while the rest of the programming tries to figure its shit out. Now, instead of the rest of menswear’s emerging designers trying to shakily balance on each other's shoulders to hold NYFW:M up, there's Raf's big shoulders carrying the load.