Last season, Raf Simons’ debut for Calvin Klein took place just three weeks after the presidential inauguration. As one of the first shows by a major designer on the calendar, he set the tone for what fashion could be in the post-Trump era. Whereas the first show was optimistic — and paid homage to the American workers both blue collar and not — his vision for spring 2018 was more an embodiment of all our current fears: Why does the American Dream feel like a nightmare?
While cheerleaders were one of the point of references for fall 2017, this season, they played a starring role. Largely inspired by “the idealized American teenager,” aka the cheerleaders and the jocks, the whole rah rah sis boom bah thing manifested itself most prominently and most literally: little yarn pom-poms hung from the backs of pockets and handbags, and the now iconic cowboy-style shirt received a high school remix; the button-ups were remade in satin and were reminiscent of vintage varsity jackets. And what is more emblematic to the current state of the American Dream than seeing the cheerleader and the jock, running for their life through the woods, trying to escape a murderer wielding an ax, a chainsaw, or a knife?
The exploration of horror movie tropes yielded an interest in unusual materials, utilized in mid-century American couture silhouettes. Full, gathered skirts, capes, and glamorous gowns were made of thin plastic reminiscent of tents and raincoats. There was a model carrying an orange leather bag, dripping with leather fringe, which made it so heavy it could’ve easily doubled as a weapon. Most magnificent were the series of finale dresses made from a combination of wool yarn and plastic strips that also brought to mind the wild color combinations of (killer) clowns. One particular dress, in different shades of vibrant and deep reds, hung upon a red fishnet bodice, was equal parts sensual and macabre.
The absolute standout were a series of brightly colored molded rubber pieces: sexy pencil skirts with matching mock neck tops done in janitorial yellow and bright blue and worn with contrasting gloves. The pieces were specially made by a factory in Ohio and are stamped with “MADE IN OHIO” right on the chest. (Considering the current conversation around the heartland, the need for the United States to increase the amount of things it produces, and Ohio’s famed status as a battleground state, one could also read a bit more into its significance). There was something slightly sinister and clinical about them, as they immediately brought to mind forensic protective clothing, especially when you look at some of the other pieces that went down the runway: a white leather jacket handprinted and splashed with red paint, and a beautiful, white, off-the-shoulder gown with a red splotchy print that was obviously made to mimic blood.
This season also produced a collaboration with perhaps the most famous American artist, Andy Warhol. Images from his 1962 “Death and Disaster Series,” where the artist appropriated images from car accidents and tainted cans of tuna fish from the newspaper, appeared hand-painted on denim jackets and jeans, and screenprinted over delicate lace dresses covered that were then covered in plastic. Warhol famously said that “in the future everyone would be world-famous for 15 minutes,” but what he didn’t know, and what none of us expected, was that during those fifteen minutes somebody could also become president. We never knew how much evil could be accomplished in such a short amount of time.
While it seems that this collection took a dark turn from the optimism he offered last season, Raf doesn’t see it that way. “This collection is a celebration of American Life,” he said in his show notes, which also made a point to remind us that horror so oftentimes appears in dreams. But that in the end, it always becomes beautiful, and good always triumphs. At Calvin Klein, we got a a vision for a fantasy life rooted in our increasingly apocalyptic reality.