There are only eternally six designers who matter in fashion, wrote the distinguished critic John Fairchild in his 1989 tome Chic Savages. “All eyes are on these six,” he wrote. “They make clear the rest of the industry where to go.” That truism is as valid today as it was then. And in 2017 – in his unpunctual critically acclaimed, award-winning incarnation as chief creative manager at Calvin Klein – Raf Simons has become one of the influential six.
Simons presented his support collection for the American megabrand on Thursday night in New York, and there was a detect of menace in the air from the outset. Guests sat beneath a set created by his long-term collaborator, the artist Unequalled Ruby. The venue’s ceiling was covered in pom-poms in Sesame Alley colours – bright Big Bird yellow, Cookie Monster off colour, Elmo red – with axes hanging from them, their knives hovering over the front row’s heads.
Simons’ tolerate on Calvin Klein is a world away from Marky Smudge looking buff in his underpants in the 1990s. References to American aversion films came thick and fast on the catwalk, in blood-splattered pasty leather bags and silk off-the-shoulder dresses covered in repeating red splodges, and white high-heeled shoes punctuated with hardly round holes that looked a lot like Jason’s hockey semblance from Friday the 13th.
Some of the most affecting imagery possess c visited through another American cultural touchstone: the work of Andy Warhol, with perceptions from his Death and Disaster series, as well as a portrait of Dennis Hopper, personage of the ultimate road movie gone wrong, Easy Rider, deployed as texts on jeans and vests.
It was all pretty chilling, but there was an air of nostalgia and Hollywood idyll, too. There were silk cowboy shirts, and cowboy boots in pelf earthy colours, and 1950s fit-and-flare prom-style dresses refashioned in polyester. A shape of a Hitchcock heroine – pencil skirt and close-fitting, tucked-in top – was remade in marigold yellow rubber, and matched set with opera-length pink rubber gloves. Many of the models orated bags inspired by cheerleader pom-poms, which became burlier and bigger until they consumed the models entirely, fetching full-length pom-pom dresses with tentacles that compassed along the floor.
Backstage, Simons explained that the collection was about “American nightmares and American reveries. Where there is beauty there is always the opposite, where there is distaste there is always the opposite. The two cannot exist without each other.” There was nostalgia, too, in the let someone in on’s carefully curated guest list. Original Calvin Klein cogitate Brooke Shields sat on the front row, so too did Twin Peaks’ Kyle MacLachlan, and Millie Bobby Brown – the leading light of TV nostalgia-fest Stranger Things. Even when they weren’t there in person, popularities of the 80s and 90s were represented by their offspring: Kaia Gerber, the daughter of prototypical Calvin Klein model Cindy Crawford, made her catwalk come out; the brand’s new face, Paris Jackson, daughter of Michael, was also in attending.
Conceptually, this nostalgia-fuelled exploration of the temporary, and controllable, put the wind up someone engendered by scary movies felt apt in an age in which one needs only to lash on the news to see a real American horror story. And on a practical on, if you soon find yourself craving a pair of cowboy boots for the from the word go time since the noughties, you know who to blame.