The Western shirts with the texture of satin that opened the spring/summer 2018 show was, to us, a little ominous, and an indication that Raf Simons isn’t moving on from where he started—the autumn/winter 2017 season, when he showed his first collection for one of the biggest American labels, Calvin Klein. Mr Simons is now in America, and he’s showing Americans the America that Donald Trump is desperately trying to bring back.
The colour blocking of these shirts for boys and girls (only boys and girls will wear them, no?)—five of them, with contrast collars, yokes, and pockets; in colours that would not be out of place among participants of the Rose Parade, hinted at something brash that we have not really seen from Mr Simons, clownish even, if we were to ride on the current box-office hit that is It. Does America change European designers when they arrive on her shores just as she did to Hedi Slimane, who would go on to wreck Saint Laurent with West Coast rock-trash aesthetic? What does it say about the still-complicated Euro-American sartorial relationship?
The near-kitsch, colour explosion shouldn’t be surprising. Back in July, the new Calvin Klein flagship on Madison Avenue, conceived by Mr Simons and his serial partner-in-crime, the artist Ruby Sterling, opened to shoppers with a bang of yellow—walls, ceiling, scaffolding, fixtures—under which other blotches of colours punctuate the space like spilled paint. This is a Calvin Klein we have never seen before. The neutrals that Mr Calvin Klein himself was known for have stepped aside for the colours of Guanajuato, the Mexican city that’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Mr Simons is, of course, not alien to colours. We saw how good he was with them at Jil Sander, but back then he was still considered a minimalist designer. Now, he appears to have gone a little Willy Wonka, with the American customers his many Charlies. Watching the live stream on calvinklein.com, the collection felt to us like a costume designer’s first presentation to Gus Van Sant for an upcoming film.
Our bad; we had not read the show notes. As widely reported later, the collection is homage to American cinema, particularly those films that shock and scare. “American horror, American dreams,” Mr Simons told the besotted press. Here’s a Belgian showing Americans, tongue possibly in cheek, how to dress American, with B-grade dash. What can be more charming than that?
To be sure, there’s elegance to the clothes, even if there is, at least to most Calvin Klein Jeans and cK One consumers, an alt touch. Mr Simons re-imagines an America that few now recognise without excoriating the flashiness that has always attracted those who still take cheer-leading very seriously. Look beyond the gory movie references, the high-school pom-poms (that, in some cases, shroud bucket bags, or hang as tiered dresses), and the nod towards America that’s not along the coasts, and you may just find hints of ’50s couture and a way with transparency that is today’s nightie-for-day.
But Mr Simons also seems to be repeating himself. There’s the Andy Warhol photo-prints, which, undeniably reminds us of Mr Simons’s own collection of this past spring/summer season, which saw Robert Mapplethorpe’s photos applied onto shirts and outers at unexpected places. So which is more disturbing: Mapplethorpe’s male genitalia or Warhol’s car crash?
Reminiscent of his work at Dior (but in the colours that reprise those he did for Jil Sander) are the skirts—full and circular, only now, Marion and Joanie Cunningham’s present-day avatars might wear them. If we look at them from a filmic standpoint, as Mr Simons likely prefers, these are skirts the Stepford Wives (set in Silicon Valley?) would gladly and dutifully wear. How’s that for horror?