text by Adam Lehrer
As if us fashion obsessed New Yorkers weren’t freaking out enough over Raf Simons’ creative dominion over Calvin Klein, another massive bit of “Raf meets New York” news has polluted the internet: Raf Simons will be showing his Fall Winter 2017 menswear line at New York Fashion Week: Men’s. This is astonishing for a number of reasons. Firstly, the industry generally considers NYFWM to be shite, and the assertion is generally not wrong. The schedule obviously has some bright spots that I’ve written about at length here (Siki Im, Robert Geller, N. Hoolywood, Devon Halfnight Leflufy, and some more), but big and boring and commercially minded brands like Todd Snyder dominate the press cycle. Important designers like Thom Browne already abandoned NYFWM due to a lack of press coverage and poor organization. Raf’s decision to show at NYFWM brings massive fashion credentials to a Fashion Week schedule that desperately needs them, and it’s fair to bet that a number of high profile menswear designers will warm up to the idea of showing their new collections at NYFWM in his wake.
But more than that, Raf’s decision to show at NYFWM solidifies the creative direction that the designer has been hinting at in his last few collections. Consider this: Raf has always referenced visual artists and musicians throughout his career (after all, he is one of if not the designer that got artsy rock n’ roll dudes interested in high fashion in the first place). But in the past, he exercised decidedly European art and rock influences in his menswear collections. The music of Manchester, namely Joy Division and New Order, and those bands’ album covers’ graphic designer Peter Saville were celebrated in his FW 2003 collection. Raf’s FW 2001 collection presented graphics inspired by the disappearance of Manic Street Preachers’ iconic vocalist and poet Richey Edwards. The European art references in Raf’s work could go on forever: Bowie, German komische and electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk, Belgian ‘Gabber’ techno music, Belgian florist Mark Colle, British fine artist Conrad Shawcross, and his fashion design hero Martin Margiela all influenced Raf’s refined and distinctly European counter-cultural sensibilities.
But somewhere along the line, Raf’s tastes shifted towards the art of the United States. If one had to find a jumping off point for this transition, he/she would most likely point towards his FW 2014 collection designed in conjunction with Los Angeles-based mixed-media artist Sterling Ruby. That collection, based on the peculiar design flourishes of Ruby’s rarified wardrobe, saw the duo incorporate patchwork based around Ruby’s teenaged tendency to adorn his clothes with patches by the likes of American bands Black Flag, Sonic Youth and Bad Brains. Since then, American artists have had a greater presence in Raf Simons collections. His stunning Fall-Winter 2016 collection was full of over-sized school uniforms imagined as the costumes of stars from ‘80s American teen horror movies. Raf has said that American artist, Cindy Sherman, influenced the collection. More prominently, the collection was heavily inspired by the work of David Lynch. The show’s soundtrack featured Angelo Badalamenti discussing his creative process working with David, creating Laura Palmer’s Theme song from Twin Peaks, while that very theme song played chillingly in the background. No artist on Earth has explored the darkness that exists within the cracks of mundane American existence more than Lynch, and it was as if Raf was criss-crossing the whole country before taking up permanent residence in his new home of New York City. But he made it here, as evidenced by his Spring-Summer 2016 collection designed in conjunction with the archive of one of the most quintessentially New York of New York City artists, the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Mapplethorpe deftly chronicled the New York City sub-cultures of the late ‘70s and ‘80s that made the city such a hotbed of artistic excitement and debauched excess. His portrait subjects included members of the gay biker scene and BDSM world, New York high society socialites, and art world superstars ranging from Andy Warhol to Debbie Harry to Mapplethorpe’s once girlfriend Patti Smith. No artist’s output breathes the mysticism of New York City better than Robert Mapplethorpe’s. So when Raf presented a collection that featured Mapplethorpe prints, garments inspired by Mapplethorpe’s idiosyncratic style, and a soundtrack chalk full of Blondie hits, it became clear that Raf’s artistic heart is currently with New York.
So we knew that Raf would be presenting his Calvin Klein collections here. From a business standpoint, it would make sense to just show all his clothes here in New York to avoid the cross Atlantic flights. But looking at Raf’s last few collections, it is clear that he has become increasingly more interested in American art. With his Mapplethorpe collection, he told the world in code that he’d be headed to New York. Like Helmut Lang did before him bringing his brand to New York in the ‘90s, Raf Simons instantly boosts the reputation of the New York City menswear schedule. I feel proud that my city finally has a designer that represents the creativity of the ways in which men dress in New York. Thank you, Raf.