If New York Fashion Week's FW17 iteration were to be remembered for anything, it'd be for the time that a reserved, soft-spoken designer from Belgium brought more commotion to the city's fashion scene than Times Square's Naked Cowboy brought to hoards of doe-eyed European tourists frenzying for photo-ops.
With the catwalk of Raf Simons's grand New York Fashion Week debut, where he presented the FW17 collection of his eponymous label during the city's menswear-dedicated affair, just barely wiped clean, the designer returned for his sophomore showing in the Big Apple – this time to deliver his highly anticipated inaugural collection for iconic American fashion house, Calvin Klein.
Hosted in the ground floor space of CK's Midtown headquarters, the sterility of the room's white paint and blaring Leko fluorescents was playfully disrupted by strips of bright tassel, canvases of acid-washed denim, black spray-painted buckets and other bric-à-brac that dangled from the ceiling. The mastermind behind the decor was none other than multidisciplinary artist, and longtime Raf collaborator, Sterling Ruby, who was given free rein to imagine the space, which actually served as the first in a trilogy of installations by the artist for Calvin Klein.
The 10 a.m. function (which of course started late) was met with industry big wigs far and wide, who shuffled through crowds of eager non-invitees who cluttered the sidewalks outside, hoping to catch a g
limpse of the many glitterati, such as A$AP Rocky and Stranger Things's Millie Bobby Brown, that came to show their support for Raf on his big day.
Once the air kisses and influx of social media fodder from giddy attendees died down, sweaty publicists assertively ushered everyone to man their posts so that we could actually begin to see what we all came for – the clothing (this was a fashion show, after all).
The track that opened the show was also the one that closed it, starting with an eerie rework of "This Is Not America" followed by David Bowie and Pat Metheny Group's 1985 original.
In a similar vein to what largely inspired the "I Heart NY" motifs found in his own label's FW17 line, Raf's CK debut was yet another ode to his newfound American residency, only this time, the references tapped a much broader view of the Land of Stars and Stripes. "It's the future, the past, Art Deco, the city, the American West," Raf states in the press notes. "Not one era, not one thing, not one look. It is the coming together of different characters and different individuals, just like America itself."
CK Collection sartorial hallmarks were commonplace, yet Raf's discernibly European quirks were noticed immediately. Suits were tailored in a way that hugged nearly every (non-existent) curve of each model's waifish physique, though they still struggled to fill them out completely. Primary-colored Western shirts were given contrasting pocket details. Greaser biker jackets were de-masculinized via floral embroidery and cropped sleeves. Knitted varsity sleeves were stitched onto sheer nude tube tops.
The most interesting Raf touch was the ample use of plastic lamination, which glossed over everything from plaid topcoats to dresses plastered with exotic bird feathers. Then, of course, you had your dark-washed denim, which was perhaps the least tampered with staple synonymous with Klein's namesake, and offered an endearing wink to those racy Brooke Shields ads that brought the brand to prominence in the early '80s.
Though tropes of Lynchian Americana sprung to mind almost immediately, this vision of America belonged completely to Raf. In a time where sociopolitical turmoil has the citizens of this country divided on where they stand when it comes to national identity, Raf is finding tremendous inspiration in his "American" homecoming, and at the same time, is restoring the beauty and hopefulness that have made America the beacon of multicultural unity for all these years.
For more coverage of FW17 Fashion Week be sure to read our other reports on today’s hottest brands.
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