Independent designers are falling by the wayside with increased regularity in recent years. While a few are wholly personal decisions, the majority face unemployment and financial ruin due to a simple failure to balance their avant-garde tastes with the industry’s commercial needs.

Money is a dirty word in most sectors, but this is particularly true in the fashion sphere which pushes the illusion that young talent can go wild with their creativity rather than worry about whether their designs are actually sellable. One man, however, has managed to close the chasm between applaud-worthy design and commercialism, yet he’s often overlooked as a role model for any modern-day creative director.

That man is Raf Simons. Born in Belgium, the now 50-year-old designer has gone from the penniless voice of the youth to the voice of the youth with a multimillion-dollar contract. And somehow, he’s kept his own label going for more than two decades, collaborated with huge corporations and put the entire Kardashian clan in a campaign without once being sneered at. His story—which covers the launch of his own brand through to stints at Jil Sander, Dior and, now, Calvin Klein—should be the blueprint for any business with a creative edge.

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