For A/W 18, Raf Simons took Calvin Klein to the New York Stock Exchange. The floors were overflowing with popcorn, and the hall was filled with towering barns painted in Warhol prints and hanging Sterling Ruby sculptures. There was something simultaneously cheerful and hallow about the atmosphere - the playfulness of the popcorn coupled with concepts of Americana and the American experience was both entertaining and haunting. The choice of the massive Warhol images was particularly jarring - the artist was all about performing outsized identities for commercial aspiration. Creating 'Superstars', art as a means to gain attention, fame, and access to the Hollywood machine. What could be more American than that?
The clothes that came forth mixed Western ware (see: sexually subversive prairie dresses, including a sheer pastel 1840s-style ankle length number with cutouts revealing nipple pierced breasts), firefighter accents (thigh-high rubber rescue boots and firehouse coating), and space age moments (a burnt orange take on a space trooper jumpsuit opened). There were elements that seemed to merge all three American touchstones simultaneously: homey hand-crocheted neon knits and Western shirts in soft shades with violently primary-colored pocket holes were two. Each aspect could be seen as a reference to a different American trope or hero - the Western cowboy, the Astronaut, the Firefighter, poised to rescue.
The soundtrack, largely plucked from Simon & Garfunkel’s music for The Graduate, felt right at home. Loss of innocence, alienation, disillusionment, instability amongst shifting sexual mores, and feelings of emptiness in the midst of plastic social landscapes - the implications of the cult classic and the melancholic feel of the duo’s folk score did not go unnoticed.
Was Simons celebrating the messy, self-involved American pop culture past? Was it a dark joke or a criticism? Could it be both?
The metallic silver lace fringed dresses, the hand-quilted gloves, the outsized rescue coating and those boots; it was all very desirable. Simons said backstage that the collection is meant less as a bleak examination as more as a look towards hope. Maybe there's room for a new narrative of American self-invention with these pieces.