A shark and a cougar: two of the most iconic predators of American pop culture, and both muses for Raf Simons’ spring Calvin Klein 205W39NYC collection.
Since he arrived at the brand, Simons has used his runway to examine the American psyche by studying its archetypes and iconography. Already, he’s looked at the American West and the Hollywood horror genre versus the American Dream, his creative dissertations typically playing superficial pleasantry against warped underbelly.
This time out, the subject was killer instinct, with one beast who devours beachgoers and another who would eat her own young for lunch, only she doesn’t get away with it. The attraction for the designer? Both “Jaws” and “The Graduate,” as Simons’ show notes decoded, “represent transgression, the idea of the predator, and a fundamental questioning of authority — a rebellion that is quintessentially American.”
Simons showed at the West 39th Street building housing the brand’s headquarters; mercifully, reports of a New Jersey trek were fake news. Arriving guests found none of the kitchen-sink miscellany of the Sterling Ruby reveries that Simons has previously commissioned. Rather, the space was devoid of decoration but for ominous red overhead lights that cast an eerie pall. The show lights came up to reveal blood-red carpeting and, surrounding the room, huge video screens running familiar footage of idyllic blue water, until, “Duun dun, duun dun, duun dun, duun dun, duuun!” Jaws! The movie’s opening scene continued to run, threatening duun-duns and all, as the models started out. But who can concentrate on a mannish jacket when anticipating the Great White? One looks like a jacket; the other has scared the bejesus out of you for years.
It made for an early distraction from the runway, albeit a compelling one. Only when confident that the shark would be a no-show could you focus fully on the clothes. Simons’ seafarers, their hair damp and matted, flaunted some impressive merch. The jackets were winners on both women and men, cut on the big side and worn with a casual attitude. But then, it’s hard to look formal when the underpinning is a wetsuit, even when carrying a lady-fied handbag, as many models did. As for the Universal Pictures-sanctioned “Jaws” T-shirts and tanks — a tepid amusement. One wonders when the current onslaught of expensive, marketing-driven versions of what should be cheap stuff will finally run its course.
No such mulling necessary regarding American culture’s most brazen cougar, Mrs. Robinson, who hit the runway along with the object of her predatory desires — the graduate. (In an odd case of coincidence or zeitgeist or something, on Tuesday, graduation regalia showed up at two very unlike places, Calvin Klein and Vaquera, the latter closing its show with a hilarious “Scarlett O’Hara graduates from high school” getup.) Simons’ graduates, men and women, wore traditional mortarboards and elegant black coats as robes. As for the bevy of Mrs. Rs — they seduced with high chic rather than sexiness in plentiful takes on a shift dress that nodded beautifully to mid-century couture, the luxe fabrics bunched and “crashed” for heightened surface texture, while big, jeweled broaches added sparkle. Contrasting the haute aura: slouchy sweaters over fluid skirts. In terms of fashion news, that was more or less it.
Deeper context: Like “The Graduate,” Simons wrote, “This collection explores taboos and temptations, shifts in culture and community, but ultimately, the overarching theme is love.” Missed that one? Ditto. But so what? If Simons’ outsider musings on American culture sometimes swing pretentious, at least he’s got a thought in his head. Not all deep thoughts translate seamlessly into powerful fashion. Here, Simons allowed storyline to trump clothes, which resulted in a fashion message not fully baked.