#SuzyNYFW: Calvin Klein, The Horror Movie?
In the Calvin Klein store on Madison Avenue, the company’s fresh design image swings from the rafters. There are twisted ribbons, mannequin dummies and all the colour and artistic imagination the fashion world now expects from the collaboration between Calvin’s Belgian designer Raf Simons and the American artist Sterling Ruby.
The clothes on sale are modern, streamlined and appealing; luring in from the street outside those in search of sleek tailored coats, impeccably cut trousers, wispy chiffon blouses and references to vintage patchwork quilts from rural America’s past.
Above all, the collection seems appealing, even joyous: a colourful new dawn for a designer who founded his company in 1968 as ‘Calvin Clean’.
How chic to see that early minimalism transformed by Simons into an ode to America today.
But these clothes are the fruits of a show held six months ago for the winter season. The spring/summer 2018 presentation this week was familiar. There was the same rendezvous in the Calvin Klein New York headquarters; same concept of decoration with ribbons – mostly blood red or sunshine orange, put up as overhead decoration. And an even more impressive line-up of famous faces, on the performing arts side from Lupita Nyong’o and Kate Bosworth to Jake Gyllenhaal.
But what’s this? Over my head is hanging, like the sword of Damocles, an axe swinging from red distressed cheerleader pompom fabric. The merry exuberance of Sterling Ruby seemed to be turning into a horror movie.
“For me, it’s about speaking about America – and Calvin Klein’s America,” said Simons backstage. “I think of it as a mighty trilogy, with something that is needed to bring the whole company together. For me, it’s about speaking about America – Calvin Klein’s America.”
The show notes were far more specific. “An abstraction of horrors and dreams,” read the introduction under the ironic headline ‘Sweet dreams’. The show, it explained, “takes its inspiration from cinema, from the dream factory of Hollywood and its depictions of both an American nightmare and the all-powerful American dream.”
“The ‘clues’ of horror, but also of dreams, inspire the collection,” the story behind the fashion show continued. It was played out on the runway in innocent, mid-century silhouettes given a dark tinge with the use of nylon and rubber. Andy Warhol, who defined the culture of 15 minutes of fame, was also part of the equation, which tipped towards suggestive images of shattered innocence.
The movies quoted as inspiration to Raf Simons and his right hand Pieter Mulier included Knives (1981-82), Electric Chair (1964-65) and Ambulance Disaster (1963-64) – all chosen from Warhol’s Death and Disaster series. The uncomfortable irony was that references might appear on a floaty nightdress as a symbol of young female innocence, or played out in the cowboy boots that the designer had introduced in his debut season. One ongoing reference was to Amish quilts; another to wild west-style fringing that hung and swung from and across the body. These skinny streams were even made into bags as well as creating layers of silken fringes on the body.
Another statement came with rubber used as cloth, helping to create the unsettling vibe of the show.
But what did it all mean in terms of clothing? I could see references to the Raf Simons heredity in voluminous skirts that he had presented as a silhouette in his time as designer for Dior. A series of rain coats for both sexes showed the designer’s faultless cutting and captured a hint of the clean, clear lines from the original Calvin Klein collections. But strong colours – green, blood red, golden yellow or sky blue – mostly had splodgy black markings to enhance a sense of discomfort.
The American Dream has always been particular to the United States, the idea of an achievable goal that no other country feels so deeply. But whatever political trauma the big country is going through currently, it seemed awkward to translate it into clothes, especially by a designer who comes from outside the continent.
Edited through and placed in the Calvin Klein Madison store, this collection will look like what it is: cleverly cast garments with an intriguing artistic feel. But like horror movies, there is an underlying feeling of discomfort that left a question mark on the show itself.