Where How You Dress Is Who You Are

Raf Simons debuts an American tale for the A/W17 CALVIN KLEIN Collection

BY Janie Cai | Apr 5, 2017 | Fashion

Image by Calvin Klein

Raf Simons’ presentation of his first CALVIN KLEIN collection comes perfectly timed. The A/W17 collection, which took place at the CALVIN KLEIN headquarters 205 W 39 Street, came at a moment when the debate of exactly who makes America great again is taking up serious bandwidth. The series of 64 looks, a mix of both the men’s and women’s RTW collection shown together, was a determined homecoming and also a reflection of, and an examination, of identity. It is an acknowledgment of America’s greatness in her unique and encompassing diversity and through the decisive power of dress. What it is not, is a dress-up prance down memory lane—Simons, and his creative director, Pieter Mulier, are too dexterous for such clichés. Instead, Simons draws on the history and the iconography of a long, layered, occasionally overlapping, contradictory and idiosyncratic heritage (I mean seriously, it’s the United States we’re talking about, did you think this was going to be simple?), to deftly construct a series of outfits that venture forward instead of back. And yes, history is acknowledged, but the context is all modern. Glen-plaid long coats are sealed in a stormproof plastic, an all-weather parka is unzipped to expose a hand-quilted interior, team stripes, reminiscent of the country’s obsession with sports, echo through the clothes. And at its crux, the CALVIN KLEIN collection bares its heart—quite literally in the form of the nearly transparent mesh tops that expose the torsos of both genders, and at the same time seem touchingly symbolic of this new generation’s vulnerabilities. Just as everything is shared and bared on social media, why not translate that to the physical realm and bare oneself off-screen, his sheer pieces seem to say.

Image by Giovanni Giannoni for CALVIN KLEIN

Each look is a carefully constructed statement, powerful in its entirety, meant to essay the American Tale. Simons concept is driven home by the setting—an original artwork by longtime Raf collaborator, artist Sterling Ruby, who drew inspiration for its creation from his home country. As it was so succinctly summed up in the press release: “Mr. Simons gave Mr. Ruby free reign to imagine a work appropriate for CALVIN KLEIN; Mr. Ruby imagined America.”

Image by Giovanni Giannoni for CALVIN KLEIN

The looks at CALVIN KLEIN also has the line between gender stereotypes willfully smudged, a subtle dissolution of the usual boundaries and stereotypes in clothing, all paraded in one sitting. Women in masculine tailoring, rugged men’s leather jackets embossed with delicate silver roses, a tailored overcoat fronted by soft panels resembling a homemaker’s quilt, a protective, military-style parka with an antique hand-quilted homely interior, the uniformed anonymity of top-to-toe denim (and leather) that encases both male and female alike.

Image by Giovanni Giannoni for CALVIN KLEIN

“It reflects the environment,” says Mr. Simons. “All of these different people with different styles and dress codes. It’s the future, the past, Art Deco, the city, the American West…all of these things and none of these things. Not one era, not one thing, not one look. It is the coming together of different characters and different individuals, just like America itself. It is the unique beauty and emotion of America.”

Image by Giovanni Giannoni for CALVIN KLEIN

The unifying factor of stripes, or in this case a single stripe, visible in the casually flipped over underside, or in the thin strip of material peeking out from a neckline, an accent of colour against a smorgasbord of American inspiration and cultural ritual. This singular line threads through the diverse and all-embracing collection like a lifeline that maintains some form of continuity, even as the looks the models wear slip from one age of inspiration to the next.

Check out the rest of the collection here.