Raf Simons’ much-anticipated debut collection for Calvin Klein hit the runway here Friday, and like many (OK, make that nearly all) of the collections we’ve seen this season, it had a lot to say about the current state of America.
But a couple of things set the fall / winter 2017 men’s and women’s Calvin Klein runway collection apart from what we’ve seen so far – and from what we’re likely to see between now and the time the final footfall hits the catwalk on Thursday. First is that Simons, who was named chief creative officer in August 2016, originally hails from Belgium. This means his take on America – and its contributions to the world of fashion and popular culture – is rooted in an outsider’s point of view.
Second is that the show was set in a permanent total-room art installation by L.A.-based artist Sterling Ruby, on the ground floor of Calvin Klein’s corporate headquarters in Manhattan’s Fashion District. A friend and past collaborator with Ruby, Simons invited the artist to, in the words of the show notes, “imagine a work appropriate for Calvin Klein: Sterling Ruby imagined America.”
The result was a ceiling from which dangled engine-block parts; red, white and blue fabric shredded into pompoms; rectangles of distressed denim; swaths of fringe; galvanized metal buckets; and at least one chromed metal security door. (According to the show notes, the ground floor installation is one in a trilogy by the artist, with a second part set to be unveiled on the building’s 12th floor later in the day, and a third part to be revealed in May.)
So, in effect, the outsider – now a creative insider with one of the most recognizable American fashion brands on the planet – was presenting an outsider’s-eye view of America from within an art installation that was itself envisioned as homage to America. If that sounds like some pretty heady stuff, it was – all before the first look hit the runway to the strains of David Bowie’s “This Is Not America.”
Simons’ debut ready-to-wear collection (the show notes point out it was completed with the brand’s creative director, Pieter Mulier) was titled “Parade,” and it was a was deep dive into American archetypes including the cowboy (all-denim looks, button-front shirts with Western-inspired contrast breast-pocket flaps and dangerous-looking cowboy boots) and the preppie (khaki trousers, navy blue blazers and repp stripe details).
There were parkas and trench coats covered in quilted patterns that would have been right at home on the bedspreads of rural America of the 19th century beamed back from the 22nd century.
The idea of America as a patchwork nation -- a functional whole composed of incongruous parts -- was furthered by the collection’s mixed-fabrication pieces like the blue-check, peak-lapel blazer with mustard yellow, scrunched-up rib-knit sleeves or the same rib-knit sleeves adorning sheer, breast-baring tops.
One of the most memorable looks involved the American flag itself – a skirt notable not just because it looked like the Stars and Stripes but because it looked like a gold-fringe-trimmed version of the flag, the kind most often associated with the pomp and pageantry of higher office.
That detail was one of several that hinted, ever so slightly, at peeling back the superficial outer layer of all that America symbolizes. There were also sleeveless men’s shirts with repp-striped collar details that peeled back like old wallpaper at the shoulder and women’s footwear that split at the heel like a piece of fruit in the early stages of peeling. The outsider who looks in, it seems, must peer slowly and proceed with caution, these details seem to signify.
Another delicious you-had-to be-there detail was the black and white waistband patch visible on some of the sturdy denim pieces, the silhouetted image of Brooke Shields kicking up one leg in an instantly recognizable version of her ‘80s-era Calvin Klein denim ads.
Shields was actually in the house to see the leather-patch version of herself make its runway debut – one of the constellation of stars who turned out to see Simons’ debut for the brand. Others spotted in the front row included Lauren Hutton, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sofia Coppola, Amber Valletta, Millie Bobby Brown (“Stranger Things”), Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Bosworth, A$AP Rocky, Naomie Harris and Julianne Moore.
After the show, we asked Moore if she had a favorite from the collection.
“It was all beautiful,” she told us. “I liked the American references, the American materials – things like the quilting, the cowboy boots and the flags.”
Now that the outsider has offered up his vision of America – and taken his place at the helm of an iconic American brand – the next big question is where he takes it next.
A question that feels awfully familiar for some reason.
For more musings on all things fashion and style, follow me at @ARTschorn.
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