If there is certainty in one thing – it is in the fact that Raf Simons knows how to stage a show.
Despite the fact that alongside – let’s say Rick Owens or Jun Takahashi of Undercover, Raf is considered as one of the master of conceptual stagings (think his own menswear show staged in Chinatown in July 2017, or his recent one dovered with wine bottles and flowers), and a very much intriguing silvery popcorn box that contained the invitation – no one – absolutely no-one – could in their wildest dreams imagine that they would soon enough find themselves in corn over their head. Or more precisely – up to their knees, but that is just the matter of semantics.
If one was lulled by the harmless appearance of a popcorn box into believing that a show Raf had in store for us was to offer flimsy gaiety, one would soon enough discover one really was in corn over one’s head; and any assumptions pertinent to the naive symbolism of our favourite cinema snack vanquished as soon as one passed the venue staircase.
Raf Couldn’t have chosen a more apt place to make a point than by staging a show at the the symbol laden American Stock Exchange, a space usually revered as the heart of callous capitalism, now clad in something as banal as cinema snacks and soon to be flooded with industries’ vanguards in search for the next new thing.
The thought had a certain cling to it.
The references that propose ferocious tempo, capitalism and consumerism were hard to miss.
After all – Raf is known for leaving nothing to contingency, thus one might contemplate on what did he propose by choosing a venue notoriously associated with ferocious pursuit of monetary conquest and filling it with an ephemeral snack devoured with similar fervor. The vehemence with which people gobble popcorn is in many ways matched with the working pace that takes place in the AMEX building,and as ‘More,more,more’ stated on the invitation box proposes a certain insatiable hunger has been haunting fashion industry for some seasons now.
The unsettling atmosphere was prompted by the set resembling a scenario in the aftermath of some cataclysmic event. Was it this that waited in the aftermath of gulping desire for newness, a barren eerie wasteland was what awaited?
The dilapidated barn installations cocooned amongst heaps of popcorn, walls clad with Andy Warhol’s ‘Electric chair’ and somewhat ominous crimson installations by Raf Simons’ long term collaborator Sterling Ruby hanging from the aforementioned shacks emphasized the troubling atmosphere only to reach it’s treshold as first look was sent down the runway accompanied by wheeling sirens instead of music. Prophetic and ominous they suggested to keep your senses alert, only to break off to a surprisingly softer tune of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Sound of silence’. Accompanied by the words of first chorus one coudln’t shake off the feeling that Raf has challenged us – the audience – to address the elephant in the room, if so that elephant was our own perception. Say, how does one relate to the soundtrack of ‘Sound of Silence’ in age where the imperative of social media has been accused for creating constant noise. Or all those references on consumerism and pace, or the fact that we were stepping on food, as despite the frivolous entertainment usually associated with popcorn, we were still stepping onto something that ⅓ of the world lacks. Some were making snow-angels, other have taken gazillion boomerangs while eating the popcorn. Speculation where was Raf headed where many – from theoreticizing about the post-apocalyptic prairie chic to trying to puzzle together sweaters embellished with Looney Toons alongside the silver protective gloves and headpieces- the show in itself wasn’t lacking thought provoking references. And what Calvin Klein show had in store for us was was as equally delicious to gaze upon as at it simultaneously offered a brilliantly entertaining puzzle of references for us to solve.
While the opening look – a haute version of chemical-protection suit paired with balaclava was in it’s own right as laden with symbolism as the rest of it surroundings, rest of the show strongly countered the vexing surroundings. One by one the looks that were sent down the runway eloquently spoke of hope and fun and even romance, something that Raf Simons emphasized towards the end of the show. Alongside the signature Americana look, that has prompted neo-western in to the fashion forefront again, was some fantastically executed knitwear – a signature Raf piece now interpreted for the American giant. The outerwear –a personal favourite – provided a shelter, simultaneously protective as it was comforting and cocooning, while the prairie dresses crafted in light chiffon bestowed the collection with hope and even romance.
Raf Simons has since the beginning of his tenure at Calvin Klein expressed the desire to herald for the return of American spirit on the catwalk – a highly bold move by an European who can only understand the given references from the outsiders point of view. Yet season after season Raf has expanded his toolkit, artisanally employing the acquired assets while operating on increasingly complex level. And while his previous shows might have been as far from banality of fashion as you can possibly come, this particular one had all the elements of a big art installation.While still a fashion show, the set equally resonated with an art installation that could for instance, be found at the Samlung Boros And art is ment to be thought provoking, questioning and ultimately demanding. At the time when volatility in fashion has become increasingly normal and emphasize on performing sales has outgrown the demand for culturally shifting creative output, the houses that hit that sweet spot are the ones that learn to balance on a hairthin line. In many aspects that is exactly what Raf did with the industry growing weary of the countless of shift dresses and off shoulder tops seen in the recent seasons, alongside providing a great commercial collection . And the house of Calvin Klein isn’t solely a business imbued in minimalistic legacy with Kate Moss as the ringbearer- it is in it’s full right an American giant spanning across different aspects of retail. Ultimately, what has mapped the success of the fashion houses in recent years is the ability to achieve a symbiosis of critical acclaim and power to water down the vision to create a brilliant commercial product- alongside communication to the audience. And while Raf has had the ability to keep the industry thrilled and more importantly combat the visual numbness currently looming, his latest collection for Ck has the brilliant possibility of going ferociously viral on the market.