Or, to be fair, he buried the floor of the American Stock Exchange building under 50,000 gallons of popcorn, trucked in for a wackadoodle Calvin Klein show.
Raf Simons buried it under 50,000 gallons of popcorn.
Or, to be fair, he buried the floor of the American Stock Exchange building under 50,000 gallons of popcorn, trucked in for a wackadoodle Calvin Klein show. It piled up in drifts around the weathered sides of four skeletal barns hung with blood red Sterling Ruby mop heads and papered with spectral black and white Warhol reproductions.
It was crushed under the shoes of guests, so little motes of popcorn dust blew through the air. They landed on the coats and skirts and hair of Michael B. Jordan, Nicole Kidman and Millie Bobby Brown (among many other famous people), making everyone look as if they had an unfortunate case of dandruff or had wandered into a Food Network version of nuclear winter.
Then a model in a bright orange hazmat suit and waders appeared. Let’s rephrase: Welcome to the pop-calypse.
Since he arrived at Calvin Klein, the brand that bluejeans and minimalism built, Simons, who is from Belgium, has been fixated on defining his own brand of twisted Americana, built largely on the twin pillars of Laura Ingalls Wilder and “On the Road” (the Netflix versions) — after the rot set in. This season he took it even further, with women in giant tweed coats over sweeping lawn skirts and men in sweater vests that looked more like life vests over skinny suits and shirts buttoned tight to the neck.
Everyone wore knit Fair Isle balaclavas and often big firefighters’ gloves in silver foil, which also was used in false-front A-line cocktail dresses trimmed in white lace that turned into camper-blanket sheaths at the back.
Also the two-tone cowboy shirts and placket trousers that Simons has used in every collection since his Calvin debut, and skinny striped sweaters and sweaters with Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner knit in, along with apron dresses with nothing underneath, so the breasts were exposed (a strange segue into Naughty Nellie from the general store).
Quilting squares were pieced onto crisp white shirts and reworked as bias-cut chiffon evening gowns. The effect was all very survivalist. Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” played in the background. So did “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas & the Papas.
It was both a reductionist view of the country’s most accessible myths and also stomach churningly right. That’s where we are now: drowning in a sea of puffed corn kernels and empty calories, appropriating the appropriators.
You may not like it all (although it’s not hard to imagine those homespun balaclavas becoming a thing the next time the temperatures hit minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit), but it was viscerally recognizable, the way really good fashion — which is not the same thing as wearable clothes — is supposed to be.
The kind of fashion that suggests a different way of expressing how you think of yourself or your world at that moment. The kind of fashion that has been largely missing from the runways this week.
Instead it has seemed like most designers were strolling around, heads turned to the sky, la-la-la-ing and minding their own business (in every sense of that phrase) rather than pushing themselves to confront the cultural mutation occurring around them. Maybe it takes an outsider’s perspective, or gumption. It’s risky to pontificate on national identity.
Fashion often likes to talk about how it offers an escape from everyday ugliness, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with beauty for beauty’s sake. Run off to the stage! Sing me some show tunes!
Michael Kors did, with a variety act set to a medley of “Raindrops on Roses” and “Respect” (and Beyoncé and “West Side Story” and Madonna and more), featuring a medley of his greatest hits. Mod tartans mixed it up with bejeweled 1950s starlet sheaths; leopard furs with striped coed sweaters; flirty slip dresses with swaddling puffer stoles; camo leathers with sunflower gowns, all with matching medley footwear (pumps and winkle-pickers and boot stompers and kitten heels).
There was something for everyone — even a KO sweatshirt (get it?) — but in a time of turmoil, such style schmaltz can seem a little empty. Confrontation often isn’t pretty, but it gets you somewhere.
It’s probably not a coincidence that Stuart Vevers, the creative director of Coach and a Briton, shares many of the same U.S. obsessions as Simons, especially when it comes to the Badlands and biker dressing. It’s expressed differently — his men and women look like luxe hobos, loaded up with tiny prairie florals in vintage lines, rough shearlings, laces and lamés, everything dangling leather tassels and charms — but the ingredients are similar. So, this season, was the sense of dystopia.
Although instead of wading through snack food, Vevers’ models had to wend their way through a forest of denuded trees, like something out of the Brothers Grimm or “The Blair Witch Project.” Maybe that’s why the bags and knapsacks they all carried were cavernous enough to fit a large part of their worldly goods inside.
(For what it’s worth, big bags are a trend this season. They were everywhere, including at Monse, which had a top-handled carnie-striped version that can be folded and squished under the arm. So are amped-up white shirts: See Vaquera’s dress versions, sporting portraits of its fashion forebears, including Vivienne Westwood and Miguel Adrover, over the left breast. And wide-wale corduroy — Maria Cornejo did an especially appealing cherry red jumpsuit in her Zero Maria Cornejo line.)
But back to Coach.
“I was thinking, ‘What is our goal?'” Vevers said backstage before the show. Then, of the people who populate his imagination: “What are they doing here? Where are they going?”
He didn’t have an answer — his Elvises just left the building — but he did have a convincing proposition for a look. We all have to start somewhere.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.