Behind the HYPE: How Raf Simons’ Riot Jacket Became a Streetwear Holy Grail

When Raf Simons added David Bowie and Bauhaus patches to a standard issue army jacket, he created not so much a garment, but an obsession. Today, the resulting 2001 “Riot Riot Riot!” bomber jacket is one of fashion’s most coveted garments. Vintage collectors will shell out tens of thousands of dollars to add it to their archives and celebs in-the-know wear it for the ultimate flex. Most recently, megastar rapper Drake donned the item in his “Toosie Slide” music video which caused a frenzy amongst style fans when fashion experts pointed out the jacket’s exorbitant price tag. The video was a mainstream moment for the Simons’ piece as it was covered by publications such as luxury site The Robb Report and Billboard. Previously, before the jacket made it to Drake’s music video, the bomber was also spotted on celebs like Kanye West, Kim Kardashian and Rihanna which added to the jacket’s appeal. Since these public celebrity sightings and extended media coverage, interest for the jacket has skyrocketed amongst collectors and vintage fashion fans.

The Riot bomber is a piece of streetwear history. The garment marks the moment when the Belgian designer started to shape the relationship between streetwear and high-end fashion, years before designers like Virgil Abloh and Kim Jones popularized the trend in the mainstream. Today, fashion fans, especially archive aficionados, consider the jacket to be the ultimate collector’s item. It’s rare to find one in good condition, and if you do, the price tag usually ranges between $30,000 to $50,000 USD.

Today the Riot jacket is one of the most highly sought after pieces of streetwear culture, on par with the coveted original 1985 Air Jordan 1 sneaker which can command upwards of $30,000 USD today. While the 1985 Air Jordan 1 popularized basketball star Michael Jordan as a footwear icon, the 2001 Riot jacket helped define Raf Simons’ legacy in streetwear. The jacket has also contributed to the rise of archive clothing as the item is considered to be a “cornerstone” piece in the market.

When streetwear became luxury

In the world of rare fashion finds, vintage Birkin bags, classic Louis Vuitton trunks and Tom Ford-era Gucci dresses are some of the most desired. In the realm of rare streetwear, however, the 2001 Raf Simons Riot jacket is a key piece for any obsessive collector. Other items that have held the same desirability in the market include the 1997 Helmut Lang “Bulletproof” vest and pieces from UNDERCOVER’s 2003 “Scab” collection. The general public may see the Riot Jacket as just another product in Raf Simons’ many seasonal offerings. To fashion fanatics, however, the item is a cultural artifact. It’s symbolic of the designer’s groundbreaking Fall/Winter 2001 range, which most fans consider as the collection that thrusted Simons into the fashion limelight, especially in streetwear. The piece itself has transcended archive fashion culture from merely a hobby to a viable niche market. According to Middleman Store co-owner Kelly Saborouh, “It (the Riot jacket) establishes teleological significance in archive fashion by showing its strong potential value as a hobby, interest, art or business.”

On the surface level, the Riot bomber looks just like a standard-issue army jacket detailed with artful patches. In a way, it is. The piece is simply an MA-1 camo bomber made by a small European military clothing company called Fostex. Fostex military gear is relatively inexpensive; a camo jacket today can be purchased for only €47 EUR (approximately $55 USD). Simons’ touch on the jacket are the patches, which include portraits of David Bowie and Manic Street Preachers musician Richey Edwards and a Bauhaus poster. The patch of text on the jacket is from an article on Edwards’ disappearance, which was highly publicized during the mid-‘90s.

Vogue Runway

In essence, the jacket is a reflection of the music influences Simons frequently showcased in his designs. For his 1998 “Radioactivity” collection, the fashion creative heavily referenced his favorite band Kraftwerk, a German group considered pioneers of electronic music, even taking the name from the band’s 1975 album. The connection between youth music culture and clothing became the designer’s calling card, which helped shape him as a father of high-end streetwear. Virgil Abloh, who some consider the designer leading today’s high-end streetwear movement, has applied the same principles with his music fashion collaborations alongside Daft Punk, Travis Scott, Kid Cudi and more. Abloh has also voiced his obsession with Raf Simons. “You can take an approach to the art of fashion and tie it into the culture, music, and the real artistry of the time,” Abloh says in a Vogue interview. “Raf is connected to all of that, but his outlet is fashion. He’s kind of like a sponge for more than just the surface of fashion. It effortlessly comes out in his work. I think that, in terms of designers and their mission statements, that’s what resonates with me the most.” Simons’ influence towards luxury fashion’s ongoing obsession with streetwear is traceable. His past works are popular reference points for how designers like Abloh, Matthew Williams and Heron Preston approach fashion design today.

The bigger, the better

The camo jacket first made its appearance on the runway for the Belgian designer’s Fall/Winter 2001 presentation. Simons had been known for his slim cuts and sleek suiting up until then, but prior to that season, Simons took a one-year break from fashion and returned for FW01 with a new vision. The 2001 collection was particularly groundbreaking as Simons eschewed the skinny look that was also becoming popular amongst other menswear brands like Dior and Gucci.

Instead, the designer went for volume — silhouettes were oversized and bulky thanks to multiple layers of clothing. The inspiration came from the everyday dress code of European youth. “At the flea market in Vienna, I saw youngsters from the Ukraine or Romania, who simply lay layer by layer and thus create their own volumes because of the cold,” he told the Swiss paper Neue Zürcher Zeitung at the time. “What else to call this collection of iconoclasts but ‘Riot Riot Riot’?”

The camouflage Riot bomber was an undeniable standout in the range, appearing in both a standard olive and lighter olive/white/grey camo version. The jackets were the most graphic pieces in the ensemble and added to the musically-charged, post-apocalyptic direction of the runway presentation. The Riot outerwear pieces were also styled over long black coats, playing with the idea of patterns dominating solid tones. The punk music-inspired patches were Simons’ piece de resistance, appearing not only on the camo jacket but also on hoodies, tees and long-sleeved tops. They were key in delivering the creative’s youthfully rebellious ethos for the collection. In retrospect, the patched bombers were a clear inspiration for the heavy graphics trend of high-end streetwear but also the oversized, multi-layered look that has become popular today. You don’t need to look further than brands like 1017 ALYX 9SM, Ader Error, Boris Bidjan Saberi and Simons co-collaborator Sterling Ruby’s S.R. STUDIO. LA. CA fashion line for the same style of clothes. These brands all have the markings of Simons’ print and layering styles with their artful graphic tees, oversized parkas, patchwork pants and asymmetrical knits which have become the norm in high-end streetwear.

How to buy a five-figure jacket

Throughout the years, the Raf Simons Riot bomber jacket have occasionally appeared on second-hand sites like Grailed, Horror Vacuao and Middleman Store. Die-hard hunters would also scour eBay as well as international pre-owned fashion shopping platforms hoping to score the jacket at a somewhat reasonable price. However, in the last few years, it’s become harder to purchase Simons’ infamous MA-1 design. The alternative now is renting the jacket through a trusted collector, which has also become a big business. Renowned fashion archivists like David Casavant have turned a hobby of collecting archive pieces into a lucrative endeavor. Casavant loans his pre-owned garments to stylists and stars for photoshoots, music videos or even personal use — which is how Drake, Kanye and Rihanna are able to get their hands on the elusive Raf Simons Riot bomber.

Jacopo Raule/Gc Images/Getty Images

If spending $40,000 USD on a jacket or renting the Riot piece isn’t in your interest, there are always other options in the market. Streetwear and high-fashion brands alike have tinkered with the design of the ubiquitous MA-1 jacket ever since military wear became trendy. While it wasn’t anything new, the Raf Riot bomber did open up the playing field in the market when it came to more daring designs of the silhouette. Alpha Industries, the company renowned for its bomber jackets, have created patched and oversized versions of the popular outerwear piece. As for luxury fashion brands, the bomber too has become a standard offering in collections nearly every season. Burberry designed one in a hybrid jacket/vest style for Fall/Winter 2019, Givenchy offered a doberman-printed piece for Fall/Winter 2013 and Balenciaga in a floral-printed satin version for Spring/Summer 2013.

In early October, 2018, a Raf Simons Riot bomber jacket sold for $47,000 USD on Grailed. It was the most expensive item ever purchased on the website, according to the company. For around the same price, one can own a Tesla Model 3 Premium Performance edition car with $1,000 USD and change in return. Yet, for those still looking to get the Riot jacket at retail, there might still be another chance. More recently, Raf Simons announced that the label would be reissuing 100 pieces from the brand’s archives in December 2020. The project dubbed “Archive Redux” will be “both a creative and a commercial gesture … a chance to experience these garments for the first time,” the company expressed in a statement. The capsule will mark the brand’s 25th anniversary and will comprise of pieces such as the “KOLLAPS” hoodie from the brand’s SS02 collection, a shirt and tie from FW98 inspired by the electronic band Kraftwerk and a monogrammed roll-neck from the designer’s debut FW95 collection. There’s no word yet if the Riot bomber jacket will make the cut but it’s a huge possibility given the momentous occasion.

Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

A revolution begins

Culturally speaking, the Riot jacket is more than just its expensive price tag and celebrity co-signs. In the evolution of fashion, especially in streetwear, designer Raf Simons is seen as a pioneer for his ability to turn clothes into lasting works of art. As simple as the idea of patching a basic MA-1 may be, the impact the Riot bomber has had on streetwear and archive collecting speaks volumes about Simons as an artist.

The designer had the gumption to reinvent himself by creating pieces out of his comfort zone — Simons went from making skinny suits to crafting oversized outerwear and everyday basics with striking graphics in his 2001 collection. “The FW01 “Riot Riot Riot!” collection is critically acclaimed to be the collection that started Simons’ golden age in the mid-2000s,” Saborouh says. “Raf Simons introduced a baggier, menacing look sported with his music/film interests plastered on clothing in a postmodern mishmash which many young designers are still inspired by 20 years later today.” The creations, especially the Riot bomber, were early signs of where streetwear was heading, especially the foreshadowing of today’s growing DIY movement. Simons’ 2001 “Riot Riot Riot!” bomber jacket reflects the start of a fashion revolution.
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