Spring 2018 Ready-to-Wear
September 8, 2017
Walking into the Spring 2018 Calvin Klein show, I had a bit of déjà vu. For starters, there was a new Sterling Ruby installation that, like last season’s, comprised numerous objects dangling from the ceiling. The first look—a blue-and-red Western shirt with burgundy trousers and white, metal-tipped cowboy boots—was nearly identical to Fall 2017’s show opener, only this time it was made in satin. “Really?” I thought. “Again?” Don’t get me wrong, I adored last season’s collection, but I was surprised to see something so similar.
Well, shame on me for underestimating Raf Simons, who tonight unveiled his poignant second collection as Calvin Klein’s chief creative officer.
America was in a different place when Simons made his debut at the helm of the house last season. Trump had just been elected, and while things weren’t looking great for our nation, there was still an optimism—a group mentality that, if we came together, we could resist. That optimism was reflected in Simons’ Fall outing, which fused numerous American tropes in order to underscore what makes our country so great—its diversity.
Things have declined a bit since then—anyone who’s watched the news over the last few months is aware of that, so I won’t list all of our political and social failings here. Thus, while Simons—always with his finger on the beating heart of the cultural mood—embraced American optimism last season, this season, he delved into something darker, exploring both the American dream and the American nightmare.
“It’s about American horror and American beauty,” the designer said in the show notes. “Fashion tries to hide the horror and embrace only beauty. But they are both part of life. This collection is a celebration of that: a celebration of American life.”
Simons looked to two pillars of American pop culture to get his message across—Hollywood horror films and Andy Warhol. The former was perhaps most evident in the Ruby installation. Aptly dubbed “Sophomore,” it featured axes hanging from the center of giant cheerleader pompoms (those fringed masses reappeared on the runway as keychains, handbags, and dresses). Andy Warhol, who’s having (another) fashion moment of late, what with Comme des Garçons’ new collaborative series of Warhol perfumes, provided a number of prints, or rather, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts did. Sheer white dresses resembling vintage nightgowns, leather totes, plastic-coated floral-lace frocks, and dresses overlaid with mesh came printed with “Knives,” “Ambulance Disaster,” or “Electric Chair,” works from Warhol’s Death and Disaster series.
The juxtaposition of beauty and horror was expressed through the fabrication, too. For instance, couture-like silhouettes, which were referred to as mid-century American, but also recalled Christian Dior’s New Look or the sculptural shapes of Cristóbal Balenciaga, were rendered in rubber (which was molded in Ohio, naturally) or nylon. Hand-painted leather looks, meanwhile, looked blood-splattered.
Yes, this collection had many similarities to Simons’ first men’s and women’s lineup—the Western wares, the top-to-toe denim, the quaker quilts—but those seemingly repetitive pieces all boasted nuanced differences that drove Simons’ point home. It was an evolution. There was also something eerie about the thoughtful changes to those looks. It was almost like we’d entered a topsy-turvy Bizaro World where everything is familiar, but not quite.
Fashion is often so concerned with what’s new, but there’s something to be said for slowly building upon a theme, especially when that theme was as critically successful as Simons’ debut. Commercially, it’s clever—people like what they already know. Conceptually, well, I wasn’t the only editor who walked out with goosebumps.