Raf Simons marked his first year at Calvin Klein by filling the American Stock Exchange building with a silo’s worth of popcorn, not for people to eat but to wade through and sit in, for his fall show. My dad would say, “Waste not, want not, Raf.” But world hunger is a global issue, popcorn is not exactly nutritious and this collection was about America.
Belgian-born Simons came into CK with a wrecking ball, as everyone wanted him to, and remade the house of minimalist American sensuality from his particular outsider’s view of the USA. His shows have been full of bold, challenging fashion that has already proven very influential. (See the uptick in Western boots clomping catwalks near and far). Yet despite some very beautiful clothes, Simons hasn’t painted the prettiest picture of this country and its culture. To remind you, his spring show was partially inspired by an American nightmare, which does not read apolitical in these fraught administrative times.
The initial thoughts that came to mind waiting for the show to start — “Glad I never worked at a movie theater,” “Will PVH pick up the bill for everyone’s popcorn-covered dry-cleaning?” — yielded to “Does Raf Simons hate America?” after several safety orange hazmat suits stomped through the kernels. The soundtrack veered from intense techno reverb to the ultimate in domestic melancholy — “Hello darkness, my old friend” — to Bowie’s “This Is Not America.” Shalalalala.
Never mind the dry-cleaning.
The collection felt loaded with dark symbolism. Models strode through the crunchy drifts under replicas of forlorn-looking barns from the spring ad campaign, which also appeared printed on movie theater popcorn bags accessorizing a few looks. Between the the Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner sweaters, sinister but cozy homespun knitted ski hoods, Warhol silver foiled aprons, and sister wives prairie dresses done in subversive sheers or with cutouts at the breast that were veiled by an otherwise chaste bib, a weary mind couldn’t effectively parse the meaning of it all. On a purely surface level, there was an abundance of strong, oversized tailoring, cool ski sweaters, a stunning leopard coat and lovely wispy silk dresses printed to mimic classic American quilting patterns. An entire men’s contingent was clad in similar tropes, though perhaps more nuanced, less belabored.
If Simons handled the terrain with guts and big ideas, the messages often overwhelmed the clothes, and the show seemed achingly self-conscious. Sometimes it’s nice when a pretty dress isn’t so ponderous; when popcorn is just a light, delicious snack.