Raf Simons Corpo: Revealing the Furniture that Came Before the Clothing (Part 1)
The words ‘Raf Simons’ can often spark a wide range of emotions across the luxury fashion scene and youth culture as a whole. The legendary designer has shifted the paradigm of fashion forever, as Raf was one of the pioneers of mixing high quality tailoring with rebellious messages and designs. He established timeless designs in a seemingly effortless manner. From his humble beginnings apprenticing under legendary Walter Van Beirendonck, to his shifting of fashion hierarchical thrones from Jil Sander to Dior to Calvin Klein to now Prada, it is no wonder that so many people have been influenced by his work. Now at the upper echelons of fashion and culture, Raf’s legacy in the archive fashion community remains unmatched, with some of his most iconic garments reaching over $40,000. But despite his unbelievable levels of fame and success, only a small group of people know of Raf’s work before his clothing ever came into existence. Even the legend himself has been extremely private about this part of his past, but sooner or later the curtains have to be raised. Enter Raf Simons Corpo.
Before his namesake label became a global phenomenon, Raf Simons began his industrial design studies at SHIVKV in Genk, known today as the Luca School of Arts. This was where his creative energy truly began to blossom. One of his key projects, that was pivotal in shaping his creative spirit, was Raf Simons Corpo: an extremely small line of seven unique furniture pieces, each representing different aspects of the human form and anatomy. As the furniture were being brainstormed, Raf worked alone in his personal atelier to create the pieces in private. Only small shards of information about these pieces are available in the world today, but with the help of Max Reynders, we can bring these pieces together and unveil the mystery that is Raf Simons Corpo. During the 1990s, Max’s father was close friends with Raf and was gifted with 5 of the 7 RSC pieces. Now passed down to Max, he and his team aim to preserve these pieces of fashion and furniture history, all the while sharing this unknown part of Raf’s career to the world at large.
Max’s team and ARCHIVE.pdf have joined forces to provide you with an exclusive 2-part feature conversation to delve into the world of Raf Simons Corpo. From an interview with Max Reynders himself, to the unveiling of Raf’s history with furniture design, a deep dive into each RSC piece, and more, we hope that this feature can help share this hidden gem with both yourself and the world that isn’t aware of such greatness. Yet.
4 of 7 Raf Simons Corpo Furniture Pieces, courtesy of Max Reynders.
How long have you been developing and curating this content? You briefly said in 2010 that these pieces were given to yourself, your brothers and sister. What was the catalyst for you to sit down, research the history, and begin the storytelling of Raf Simons Corpo?
As a kid, I grew up with those pieces in my near settings: sometimes some were even part of our living room. As kids, we did know of the existence of Raf, I never met him personally as I was just too young at the time. When I was a teenager Raf worked for Jil Sander and Dior. That was the moment that I realized we had some exceptional Raf furniture pieces in the house and then the research started. Last year we started to give one Corpo piece some attention. We hope we can bring them all to a bigger audience this year.
Has the Corpo collection been purchased slowly over time by other collectors and patrons, or did Raf personally gift almost all of the pieces to your father?
The total Corpo collection was about 7 different designs. Raf did give 5 of the 7 pieces to my dad. All pieces have Raf's logo and signature, and all have the number ‘1_1991’. We have no idea about the state or condition of the two remaining Corpo designs or who owns them. So this still remains a mystery.
Along with the Corpo collection and Raf’s designs, we would love to get more insight about your father and his connection with Raf.
Raf and my father studied together and graduated in 1991. So exactly 30 years from now. Raf and my father lost contact some 20 years ago, around 2000. Their careers went in different paths, my father stayed in conceptual furniture and works as a craftsman and artist by building all his pieces by himself in his own ateliers (comparable with the haute couture of the fashion world). Raf went to fashion, works with different external ateliers and houses, and on a much larger scale. I think, nowadays, their ideas and point of views are quite different.
Does your father have any interesting memories of going to school in a small class with Raf?
I remember one story about ‘designer-shoes’... Raf and my father studied industrial design in the second half of the eighties. In those days ‘The Antwerp Six’ became famous, so their stories intrigued a lot of designers-in-education. Raf did his internship at Walter Vanbeirendonck, and by that he also got in contact with other design-studios of the six of Antwerp. After the internship, Raf came back to the school with bags full of ‘designer-shoes’ single-used on catwalks... At the end of the eighties Raf, my father and some others were, shoe-wise, the best clothed students in Belgium…
In terms of the designs and Corpo itself, what is your favorite piece from the collection & why? What design elements of that specific piece is evident through Raf’s fashion works today, if any.
My personal favorite is the 'Corpo Protection’; the closet with the chain mail outside.
First of all, chain mail is not fashion related. Chain mail is pure functional clothing. It’s only to protect. In the Middle-ages it was used by knights, today for example by butchers. Secondly, a closet is a vertical coffin/chest. And the coffin was the first piece of furniture of mankind. It was designed to transport personal pieces safely. It was only to protect.
Raf Simons Corpo 'Protection', courtesy of Max Reynders.
Raf brings the chain mail and the coffin together in one piece of furniture; the Corpo Protection. He designs a silhouette (body on legs) covered with chain mail which has the function of a closet. He mixes protection-clothing with protection-furniture, clothing-culture with furniture-culture, to create something Raf.
A concept he still uses quite a lot in his later period as a fashion-designer, even until today.
We would love to learn more about your fascination with furniture design in connection to Raf’s history. It seems like a significant amount of contemporary fashion designers have a strong architectural & furniture design background. Many may not know that Raf is one of them. In your perspective, what’s the bridge between architecture and fashion?
When a designer graduates as an architect or a furniture designer and starts participating in their field they will be confronted with two limits to their creativity: time and the client's demands. For example: an architect designs/builds for a client. The client has a personal request and a personal view. The client has a certain budget. The building is for a specific place and a specific function. The project will take a year or several years. To realize the building you have to work with a lot of different constructors. Experiments are uncommon or extremely expensive, etc.
With a comparable idea/concept in fashion everything can go more personal (the designer creates/visualizes his concept/point-of-view and the client(s) is involved in a later stadium), faster (2 to 4 collections a year), more room for experimenting, etc. So I think, in fashion, a designer has more freedom to explore their creativity. And that kind of freedom is quite attractive for a creator. And in the last decade we also see that creatives are no longer limited to one discipline. A lot of creatives do a mix, and are architects, interior designers, furniture designers, fashion designers, artists, painters, sculptors etc. Once you have an idea or concept you can translate your vision in a lot of different scenes.
Young Raf Simons via Ziggurat Gallery (Gent, Belgium), featuring his furniture piece 'URUK', 1993.
We want to get your perspective on the increasing saturation, especially in this niche community of archive fashion that no longer feels niche for some. With the overwhelming increase of saturation & mainstream attention in the niche archive community, how do you feel about the inflation of these archive fashion pieces?
These pieces always represent an iconic moment in fashion history. And if something is iconic, it can become cult. It’s comparable to collecting art, or enjoying food at a five-star restaurant. Prices are always about supply and demand, if something is cult in combination with rare you can imagine that prices go up. Whether that principle is good or bad, you can’t change the way the world works. So I think the artistic value of the pieces in combination with the economic demand and rareness results in a price. But the art of archiving is not about how much you spend on pieces, it’s about how big your passion is for those pieces.
There are a few articles regarding the Raf Simons Corpo pieces you’ve put up for sale on Grailed and a good amount of the chatter has been about the listing prices. Do you believe this is the best way to provide exposure for this amazing piece of fashion and design history; on a marketplace that is now filled with “shock-value” listings? Ideally, how would you want to market these pieces to fully showcase your vision?
As mentioned earlier, the base of all is the cultural value of something. Unfortunately, a lot of people are not capable of seeing or spotting that kind of value by themselves. On the other hand, everyone worldwide understands the value of money. If you put a certain amount of dollars or euros on something all of a sudden people understand the value of it. So, why not combine those two parameters? By putting a certain value on something unknown, but culturally quite important, you receive the attention immediately.
Max Reynder's Grailed Listing of Raf Simons Corpo 'Protection'. Original Source: Grailed
The Raf Simons furniture pieces were and are totally unknown. They’ve been forgotten in the history of Raf Simons. They were never mentioned in his oeuvre, but very important in his transition from industrial designer education to his fashion designer career. By putting some of the furniture pieces on Grailed, we shocked the fashion world and we did give immediate awareness to these important Raf Simons furniture pieces of the early 90’s. Now these pieces have the attention they will value themselves. Fashion historians and fashion lovers will be able to judge them because the pieces are aware.
Do you have any intention of putting up another piece of Raf Simons furniture on Grailed, just to bring that shock & immediate awareness again like the first two?
We will do what’s necessary to give the pieces the attention needed, so who knows, it will depend on how things evolve. Our target is to bring it to a level fashionistas and experts will value the items on their cultural value instead of a dollar-setting.
It’s clear that these Raf Simons Corpo furniture pieces are in the right hands with Max and his family. Their overall goal is to share these pieces with the world to people have never heard of the Corpo collection before. Besides the amazing pieces of furniture and images, the story of Max’s father receiving the furniture pieces from Raf personally is truly captivating. We’d like to thank Max and his family for providing us with these amazing resources and highly encourage you to follow their Instagram @rafsimonscorpo to stay up to date with the progress of their collection.
Click here to read Part 2 of the Raf Simons Corpo Feature, where we delve even deeper into Raf Simons' history, take a closer look at all 5 of the Reynders and his family's Corpo furniture pieces, and reveal never before seen images from Raf's graduation collection video.
Interviewer: Art V.
Writer: Khan Delin