This week, Raf Simons released his collection with Smiley. Teasing the release on Instagram last month, the collab from the Belgian designer’s eponymous brand was set to centre around the classic yellow smiley symbol we all know and love. Around since the 1950s and peaking in popularity in the 90s as the face of rave culture, Smiley has been a symbol of joy, playfulness, and moving into our digital era, communication. From emoticon to emoji, the small yellow Smiley has cemented itself as an icon of pop culture. She really is that girl.
So, it makes sense that one pop culture icon should partner with another, Raf Simons. Especially since Simons is known for his signature obsession with exploring different markers of culture. In the teaser Instagram post, the designer shared that he “love(s) the optimism Smiley projects. I love the focus on a brighter and better future”.
Although this is the first time the two have officially collaborated, Simons and the Smiley go way back. Raf has been known to borrow the symbol in his designs for years, drawing on its references to rave culture and optimism throughout his career. Take his SS20 collection, in which Raf released a sweater and tee emblazoned with the smiley.
Similarly, Raf employed the symbol for a pair of sleeveless cotton jumpers which built on the classic face with inclusions like a lightning bolt, or even an all-red wig, of sorts. And with the explosion of the kidcore trend last year, the designer’s renewed interest in the Smiley makes sense – fashion needs a bit of fun. Now more than ever. And if it takes using this symbol, so be it.
Die-hard Raf fans are already clued up on his references – examining his collections in detail and reading between the lines. What permeates perhaps more than anything with Simons’ designs, though, is the obsession and manufactured dialogue with youth culture. Despite the smiley’s now outdated associations with subcultures quickly fading, Simons doesn’t design for the anarchist or flouter. Instead, he draws on these groups’ indifference to taste – good and bad, high and low – whilst capturing the beauty of their subcultural capital.