For several seasons now, Raf Simons has treated his runway shows for Calvin Klein like short films. Most of his collections — if not all of them — have been a hit since his debut at the New York-based label in 2017, though they’ve all been rooted in roughly the same idea: It’s a dark time in America. But after his spring 2019 offering, which paid homage to the post-Watergate film Jaws and featured blood-splattered clothes, bitten skirts, and more, it’s worth asking: Is it time to say “We get it already”?
Though his references are more literal than his own masterful interpretation, there’s nothing cliché about Simons’ vision. He’s got a knack for tapping into unchartered territories of the minds and closets of his loyal followers, reminding them that being bold is sexy — and facing one’s fears can be, too. This was obvious in the ultra-cropped and half-zipped wetsuits, leopard print (which, at first glance, we didn’t think held its own in the line-up), graphic muscle tanks featuring the daunting Jaws film poster (and the “cK” logo, of course), and high-slit skirts with shark bites taken out of them ( “Don’t go in the water! “). Then something less predictable happened: As the show made its way to the finale, models wore billowing graduation capes with matching mortarboards, accompanied by Simons’ signature celebratory fringe.
Like any good climax, it almost had us — but it was yet another literal note Simons wrote down during his self-education in American cinema: The Graduate. The only connection between the polar-opposite cult classics? Scuba gear, which is worn in both films. To someone who’s more of a TV buff, this transition was less smooth as it should have just been cut. So, how could Simons know blood-dyed tie-dye, skin-tight scuba trousers, and rubber Western boots would resonate with customers come spring? Perhaps it’s a secret he’ll never tell, or maybe he knows everyone else on the NYFW schedule will stick to what they know for a spring collection — florals, overdrawn silhouettes, sandals — leaving him space to do something different.
Maybe we, as a country, are obsessed with our past; flawed as it may be and given the state of our union. Film has played a crucial role in pop culture and in Simons’ collections (he’s cited Safe, Carrie, Easy Rider, and The Shining as influences for his versions of Americanisms). And we’re well-aware of his affection for Andy Warhol.
That being said — and pardon the pun — people are bound to eat it up, as they do anything the ready-to-wear maestro does. If Simons says to jump in shark-infested waters, ask yourself if you’d get in should the prize of survival be a Calvin Klein-branded wetsuit. This is the heralded “savior of American fashion ” we’re talking about here. We’re not condoning putting one’s life (or finances) in danger for the sake of fashion, but hey, you saw those bags.
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