Spring 2018 Menswear
July 12, 2017
New York should thank its lucky stars and all the fashion gods that Raf Simons (basically one of those gods) has moved his show to the city. It’s harsh, and it’s sad, but it’s true. Coming off the back of Paris—Valentino, Vuitton, Comme—Simons is not just the headliner of NYFWM. In many ways, his brand is the only heavy-fashion-hitter on the schedule. I was in Paris. I asked the editors and buyers based in Europe if I’d see them in New York. The response was often, “No.” Raf, yes, but all that way for one show? Can’t justify it. There is so much talent in New York, and somehow we all need to do a better job of bolstering it—except Raf. Raf doesn’t need to do a better anything.
The industry’s used to thanking Simons, though. Most people owe a debt to him in one way or another, from bringing his brand to NYFWM, to, I don’t know, designing entire collections that look exactly like his work. So when I got an email saying that the show would start at 9:45 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. as listed on the CFDA schedule, and that it was deep in the heart of Chinatown, it was more exciting than anything else. Other brands on the New York schedule this season, and that distance coupled with the prime dinner time slot, might have been a deal-breaker for many. Lots of divas in this industry—lots. I mean, loads. No, seriously, people in menswear like to pretend that we’re so much better than women’s editors. We’re not. I’ll just look at it online, they might say before sojourning off somewhere for salad.
But if you get a ticket for Raf Simons, fashion gods, damn it, you go. And we did. All of us. Packed into the most unexpected space—the open-air alleyway of a Chinese market with brightly colored Chinese lanterns printed with designs by graphic artist Peter Saville—the show and its setup recalled art from Substance 1987 and Fact 50 1981 Movement, both albums by British new wave punk group New Order, who inspired Simons for Fall 2003. “It’s going back a lot to my past. I have a very long history of collaborations that you know about, like the Peter Saville collaboration from 14 years ago,” Simons explained. “I wanted to pick from it again. We work at Calvin together, so we have a nice dialogue. Obviously, it’s very strongly connected to a body of graphic and photographic work that I grew up with, which is ultimately inspiring.”
Huge, scrolling LED signs that read, “REPLICANT” were placed high on walls, a reference to Ridley Scott’s 1982 science fiction film Blade Runner that inspired the show and the collection, too. “I think the main message is cultures coming together—Asian cultures, restaurant culture, and Blade Runner was an important inspiration for that reason,” Simons said post-show. It’s actually not entirely clear why Scott’s dystopian apocalyptic Los Angeles is essentially a futuristic Chinatown night market, but Simons’ interpretation makes sense. “Cultures coming together—that’s what the street is all about. That’s what’s inspiring to me. Living in New York, I think you feel that very very strongly, especially when you come from a small village in Fleurus, Belgium. It’s inspiring to me. Blade Runner has been inspiring for many years. Still, why did I never have a show that relates to that movie after 22 years? But, I think I needed to feel why in this circumstance because it’s a very filmic movie and it’s very important for me to show that kind of collection in a wide context.”
If you’ve ever been to any Chinatown anywhere, you’re probably familiar with all sights, the sounds, and the scents. The sights: Simons gave us the lanterns, neon lights, and Chinese traders from the market with beverage carts. The sounds: The market is directly under the Manhattan Bridge, so trains and cars thundered across it at regular intervals (which made transcribing my interview with him after the show so much fun) and a soundtrack of pouring rain played above us. The scents: Yes, the market smelled like real-life fish and other not-so-easily identifiable smells, but if Julianne Moore and Jake Gyllenhaal can stand in the puddles, of which there were plenty, with the heavy scent of fish hanging in the thick, humid New York summer air, then anyone can. This is theater after all, and we were the crowds in the busy, dystopian streets.
Covetable rubber rain boots that the models wore while storming through the puddled streets were appropriate. It had rained earlier that day, but the puddles were topped up by Team Simons for added splash. I was wearing open-backed Gucci slides, so not appropriate at all, but there was no memo, so I just watched where I put each foot. There were some models who weren’t in big boots and were sent through the wetness wearing socks and slides. If they weren’t looking straight ahead, they might have caught my eye and I would’ve winked at them in empathetic solidarity.
Huge PVC raincoats with industrial buckles stole the scene a time or two, a patent crocodile jacket got in on that action also, and merino wool fabrics featured heavily in the outerwear and suiting, product of a partnership with The Woolmark Company. There were Saville graphics in Simons’ signature style printed on tees, smocks, and trench coats, and lightsaber-style umbrellas with neon shafts covered floppy patterned hats for further armor against the elements. Long robes reached down toward the puddled street, not heavy, or billowing out behind like those of European monks, but inspired by the lighter, more fitted, folded, sheet-like robes of the buddhist monks in Tibet and beyond.
“There’s a past here in the collection—in every collection,” he said. “I did Dior, I did Jil, I’m at Calvin now, and we have 22 years of Raf, so there are contrasts and juxtapositions that are very extreme. There was a lot of inspiration from mid-century couture in all the coats, but there were also strong references to different cultures from the East—a lot of Eastern monk influence. We are always daring. We grab whatever inspires us and try to also make it different, to not make it too literal, which is what I think makes new waves.” Well yes, Raf, that, and those fabulous boots.