As I flipped through "MR" and "High Fashion", looking back at my memories of Raf Simons, I moved on to the topic of "ITS (International Talent Support)," a “residential” fashion contest held every July in Trieste, Italy, which Ms. Taguchi visited for five consecutive years since 2005. Trieste is located in the northeastern corner of Italy, just east of Venice, is bordering the Republic of Slovenia on the Adriatic Sea and is a port city that "offers an overlooking view of Italy.” “High Fashion" has been introducing ITS through many photos and reports in each October issue, which is released every August.

“Trieste is a small city with a population of about 200,000, and I always visit for three nights and five days. Atsuko Suga wrote a book called ‘The Hills of Trieste’, and just by looking at the houses, churches, and other buildings you can really see all of the hills and its long layers of history that makes this place more than just ‘Italy’. It's a place that has nothing to do with commercialism or snobbism, and the people involved in ITS are all dressed in resort-like casual clothes, as if they are on summer vacation. I even met Walter Van Beirendonck and Dirk Bikkembergs at a private restaurant in a square facing the harbor when they were visiting as guests. The vision of the organizer, Renzo Rosso, founder of Diesel, is that ‘everyone should be able to relax and enjoy the contest', and that’s something very comforting.”

It is a place where I don’t have to worry about the time and can interact with young designers that have been selected as finalists for the contest from morning till night, whom are currently studying or have just graduated from fashion schools from around the world, such as Central Saint Martins in London and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. “The finalists will have the opportunity to be interviewed during their presentations and to network with journalists and designers from worldwide in a friendly atmosphere. Some of the finalists from diverse nationalities were Japanese, such as Yoshikazu Yamagata, Mikio Sakabe, Taro Horiuchi, and Yuima Nakazato. I met many Japanese designers in Trieste when they were still in school or around the time of their graduation who are now having careers in Japan and overseas.”

During her second stay at “ITS#FIVE” in 2006, she was walking along the beach with the public relations of Diesel Japan and a photographer to watch the rehearsal at the venue where the final round would take place. She then bumped into Raf Simons coming out of the venue and talked to him for about 10 minutes. He was invited as one of the judges for that year's competition.

“It was my first time seeing Raf since Tokyo. For many years it has been a habit of mine where when I am tired and sleep deprived, the capillaries in the same area of my left eye break and bleed internally, and it happened again just the day before I left Japan. I was quite depressed when the doctor told me that the redness couldn’t be fixed by medication and that I would have to wait for it to heal naturally. I was wearing black sunglasses because I didn't want to make other people in the room uncomfortable with my red eyes, but that day, I had an unexpected encounter with Raf and couldn't help but to take my sunglasses off. When he saw my red eyes, he said, ‘I get that way too when I’m tired. We’re the same.’ Normally people would first ask, ‘Are you okay? What's wrong?’, but his words immediately dispelled my negative mood of not wanting to meet people and made me feel calm again. I guess Raf happened to have a similar condition, but what he said to me wasn’t a social greeting, rather a gentle consideration of words that got to the heart of the matter, and I was able to enjoy the rest of my stay without worrying about how I looked. Perhaps, when he communicates with his staff in the creation process, he does not use excessive words, but stands parallel to others, and through conversation allows people to feel sympathy and essential kindness, and drives the creation as a teamwork while making people feel positive. There was something in that one encounter which convinced me of Raf's unique temperament.”

There is an interview with Raf in “High Fashion” that shows the importance he places on his trust in Jil Sander. “A designer can't do anything alone," he said, expressing respect and gratitude for the craftsmen in his atelier who are older than he is and have worked with Jil Sander since the 1970s. “They are open, well-educated, and culturally savvy, so when I throw out 'Pol Chambost,' they immediately understand what it is and know how to respond. They accepted me as a younger person and taught me many things" (quoted excerpt). These are the words of Raf after the completion of the women's collection for autumn/winter 2009-10, which Ms. Taguchi considers a noteworthy achievement.

“This season's collection, which was inspired by ceramicist Pol Chambost’s flower vases, included the epitome of simplicity, with dresses, waist-cinching coat dresses and asymmetrically framed collar forms... I felt that Raf, who has a background in industrial design and is known for his unparalleled artistic inclination and deep cultural knowledge, was the perfect choice for Jil Sander this season."

Taguchi noted that Raf had definitively agreed with Jil Sander's consistent style of "starting from materials" in her creations. Since he took over in 2005, I think Raf has been slowly repeating "experiments" based on his taste, such as the use of soft organdy and futuristic fabrics, long fringes all over the body, trying materials that Jil Sander never had in the past and through dialogue with the craftsmen.

“In the cutthroat world of fashion, the four to five years after debuting is very long. I've been watching Raf's collections for a while now, and I remembered that when I interviewed Jil Sander once, she nodded her head in agreement when she said, ‘Long time thinking, that's my creation policy.’ That seemed to fit perfectly with Raf's stance. He brought out the best in his atelier staff, and four years after his appointment he created dresses with breathtaking forms, like flower vases. With each collection, as Jil Sander's creative director, Raf recognized the essence of Jil Sander's ‘Jil-ness’, but slowly rather than suddenly, he was able to blend it with his inextricable taste for art. In other words, he was undoubtedly a 'long time thinker' as well.”

Toshiko Taguchi

Born in 1949. Chief editor of MR High Fashion and High Fashion, now a freelance editor.