Fashion week comes like the seasons, every year, no matter what is happening in the world at large. In these times, many of us are probably trying to reconcile our love of fashion with the political climate. For some of us, fashion is an art, something more than just pomp and artifice, and can be an important reflection of an era. So what does this reflection look like today?
It was fitting that the first big show of New York fashion week was Raf Simons’s debut at Calvin Klein: a beloved European designer — a designer’s designer — at the helm of the ultimate American house, showing his debut collection at a volatile time in the United States. If there was anyone to set the tone for how to deal with the notion of frothy fashion in such sobering times, it would be this quiet Belgian.
The show opened to the hushed tones of young women singing David Bowie’s “This Is Not America.” The first model walked out in a Western Americana look: a heavy twill shirt with patch pockets, layered over a white turtleneck, worn with low-slung straight-leg trousers that featured just a slight hint of Dickies worker pants. The outfit was finished with steel-toe boots that reflected the photographers’ camera flashes.
Next, Roy Orbison’s elegiac “In Dreams” began to play, and we got to see what Simons’ American-inflected tailored suiting might look like. Model Mica Arganaraz walked out in a a glen-plaid, double- breasted coat, layered under plastic, perhaps a nod to the suburban living room where grandmom’s couch stays forever preserved under a thick layer of plastic. It was a motif that continued throughout the collection — perhaps most remarkably on Julia Nobis, who wore a plush sunflower-yellow fur trapped under plastic.
The suits themselves offered a new take on deconstruction. The strong-shouldered jackets were worn over matching cropped tops with cutouts that revealed breasts. They were paired with swingy knit skirts. In further nods to the American heartland, cheerleader sweaters — or at least their sleeves — were grafted onto sheer mesh tops.
An eerie drone filled the venue, as Mirel Wagner’s voice slowly sang a cover of “I Wanna Be Sedated.” This segued into the theme song from “Midnight Cowboy,” and we watched more looks enclosed in plastic, such as feathered dresses and perhaps most poignantly, a long jacquard coat worn over a dress that featured a deconstructed American flag. When a model came out in a voluminous A-line dress, with the same chest cutout, and a heavy leather jacket, it was evident that Simons was coming from a glamorous place like Dior, the house that gave us the New Look in 1947, injecting a bit of drama and femininity during an otherwise dark time.
An intense feeling of melancholy permeated the entire collection. By the time Air’s “Suicide Playground” began, and a distorted male voice read a passage from The Virgin Suicides, the sadness was unmistakable.
However, as models came out for their final walk, we realized how diverse the cast was. It was as if Simons was reminding the audience: This is what really makes up the fabric of America. It was an homage to hardworking Americans everywhere, whether toiling away on farms or in office towers. It was a reminder that we can protect what is precious, that we can find beauty in dark times, that we can value our heritage, our traditions, while still looking forward to the future — believing that what will come will be better than what came before.