Style & Grooming

Raf Simons’ American Nightmare

For the Belgian designer’s sophomore collection for Calvin Klein, he puts on a fashion horror show

With a Sterling Ruby-fied ceiling hung with axes, buckets, and what looked like disintegrating cheerleader’s pom-poms, it was clear that this season Raf Simons was thinking about horror. Hard not to, in the current political (and meteorological) climate, but not a theme that often shows up on the runways, especially in New York, the home of the high-fashion sweatpant. Leave it to Simons then, to delve deep into the American psyche, in a brilliant sophomore collection that erred on the scary side.

As the audience (that included Moonlight stars Mahershala Ali and Ashton Sanders) sat below said ominously hung axes, the models emerged in a series of ever weirder looks – just like a horror film we started with a day trip and ended with destruction. At first, it was all about the silhouette the designer established last season – the boxy suits redolent of cowboys (worn by Kaia Gerber), this time rendered in stiff satin, white denim and simple vests. It was all very midwestern.

As the soundtrack intoned This Is Not America, however, it got a whole lot more strange. The prints which adorned the looks were Warhols of Dennis Hopper and Sandra Brandt, twin icons of a kind of 70s Americana. Their faces adorned some night dresses which were positively Sissy Spacek in their sweet naivety, promptly followed by a series of distressed leather looks reminiscent of a butcher’s shop or a sex club. It was the completeness of the outfits that was sinister – an entirely brown leather cowboy outfit for men, followed in quick succession by a guy in a leather coat over a plastic windbreaker. The clash of these fabrics was icky yet satisfying – the dull, spattered leather broken up by the high-gloss of the plastic, and clinical glimpses of the models’ skin.

There was, of course, tailoring, most notably in a kind of patchwork where one leg was different to the other, and vibrant purple and orange suits (as well as more ordinary versions in black). The climax to this high-fashion surgeon’s table was rubber. (Is there any fabric more weird or terrifying?) A men’s coat in brown looked almost squeaky, followed by a quite lovely and strange lilac-hued t-shirt printed with the words “Made in Ohio” across the front of the collar. It couldn’t be more clear that the America Simons looking at is the same one everyone else is – one that’s ripe with fear of the unknown. He just manages to find the beauty in it.

The show closed with a series of outfits that looked like disintegrating cheerleader’s pom poms – dresses for her, and enormous keyrings hanging off the back of trousers for him, like they’d survived a particularly insane night at the stadium. Simons reminds us after night in the woods, hopefully we can stumble, blinking, into a new day.