To view the full Calvin Klein Fall 2018 Ready-to-Wear collection, click here.
Well, if you thought Raf Simons couldn’t top himself after his eponymous line’s bacchanalian rave at NYFWM, you thought wrong. Last night at his third outing as Calvin Klein’s chief creative officer, Simons put on one of the most bone-chilling runway shows in recent memory. With the help of artist and collaborator Sterling Ruby, the designer cast a nuclear winter upon the American Stock Exchange building, filling it with what I have to imagine were truckloads of popcorn (“My heels!” cried more than a few editors; “My lungs!” wheezed others), scaffolding structures adorned with Ruby’s oversized pompoms, air-duct tubing (which looked very end-of-the-world), and giant barn walls (like what you might see on a movie set) painted with images from Andy Warhol’s Death and Disaster series, part of an ongoing collaboration with the Andy Warhol Foundation.
Before the show even began, it was clear that Simons would, as he has since his Fall 2017 Calvin Klein debut, continue to play upon the idea of the American Dream. If you’ll recall, his initial collection was optimistic—a celebration of quintessentially American tropes like Quaker quilts and Western motifs, as well as the melting pot that is (was?) our great nation. Spring 2018 flipped that on its head, placing a sinister twist on American stereotypes (cheerleaders and such) with the addition of horror film iconography and the first appearance of the very same Warhol works that covered the barns this season. Simons has offered us a consistent narrative—one that began with hope, fell into concern, splicing the American Dream with American Horror, and now, well, baby, things are bleak. They are bleak. I mean, the popcorn metaphor? Filling the Stock Exchange with popcorn? It’s an air-filled snack that we mindlessly throw into our mouths while watching big-budget movies, maybe one Harvey Weinstein produced, or reality T.V. shows, or the news, which Americans now treat as reality television because we have a reality T.V. President. We’ll be splayed out on our couches, crunching on those kernels as we watch the end of the world spiral toward us like a North Korean missile. Then there’s the consumerism connection—how we’ll just consume everything in front of our faces until we explode. Or perhaps it was a reference to the fact that we buy, buy, buy and then throw it all away, just like this popcorn at our feet, producing so much waste. And then there’s the irony attached to that notion, seeing as fashion is obviously part of the consumerist system…I digress. Calvin Klein’s show was undeniably post-apocalyptic. But somehow, even that was beautiful—bleak, but beautiful—through Simons’ lens.
To Simon & Garfunkel’s tear-inducing “Sound of Silence,” Simons’ survivors marched through those drifts of popcorn wearing piles of clothes that seemed to represent both what they’d lost and what they were desperately trying to retain—relics of a happier past. The most heartbreaking representations of joy and innocence lost and longed for were the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote sweaters—they were nubby and worn-in and disheveled, like the teddy bear you snuggled, drooled on, and destroyed as a child and still have as an adult, maybe tucked in a cupboard somewhere. Those Quaker quilts were back, but this time they were lone patches on a jacket, or mimicked as a pattern on sheer dresses. Prairie skirts were diaphanous and paired with industrial rubber boots, the kind a hazardous waste management worker might wear (because how else are you going to wade through all that discarded, consumerism-produced popcorn?); crinkled metallic coats and dresses resembled silver thermal blankets (the end of days can be chilly); a fur coat was embellished with reflective orange and silver tape; and models wore knitted ski masks and sunglasses. Suits, sweaters, dresses, and vests were layered and mismatched as if these nomads were swathed in everything they owned.
“This is Not America,” the eerie tune Simons has played at all of his Calvin Klein shows, echoed before the finale. Yes, the country Simons adopted when he accepted the Calvin gig has been spiraling out of control since his arrival, and it’s easy to see this show as a warning about what the future might hold. But there was something soulful and sweet about the frozen new world Simons imagined for Fall. Maybe there was some optimism, too—after all, these wanderers are still here, and they’re still strutting and eating popcorn. Anyway, if the end is nigh, all we can hope is that the aftermath looks like Calvin Klein.