Just when you thought New York Fashion Week might go out with a whimper, along came Raf Simons. Team Calvin Klein took the American Stock Exchange (a loaded location made all the more so by the market’s recent high-volume churning) and transformed it into a hallucinatory farm scene, complete with barn simulacra covered in Andy Warhol photographs, Sterling Ruby sculptures hanging from the scaffolding, and popcorn half a foot deep. The relevance and value of fashion shows may be in question, but it’s an undeniable buzz to attend one by a brand that has money to spend on it, and the creative wherewithal to match.
This was Simons’s third runway show for Calvin Klein, and his most fully realized. It made the previous two look like that metal scaffolding—a solid framework, but spare in comparison. A year after his debut, Simons has much more to say, starting with a whole lot about protection and safety. He showed all manner of firemen’s jackets for men and women, including one that integrated the reflective stripes into shearling, and he turned Mylar survival blankets into open-back dresses trimmed in white lace. Coupled with rubber hazmat boots that reached the thighs, and hand-knit balaclavas, it painted a dystopian picture. Afterward, Simons mentioned as an influence Safe, the prescient 1995 Todd Haynes film, in which Julianne Moore’s California housewife suffers unnamed environmental illnesses. It was tempting to see the darkness here—and by extension, in America—but Simons dismissed the idea: “Less horror this time, more hope.”
Where was the hope? In the delicately bold patchwork chiffon gowns (up until now Simons hasn’t done unabashedly pretty), and in the 19th-century dresses cut from the sheerest of pastel plaids, or deconstructed at the yoke to expose the underpart or all of the breasts. They conjured thoughts of Rudi Gernreich’s monokini. Most compelling of all from a shopper’s perspective will be the floor-sweeping prairie skirts, which Simons paired with chunky sweaters and oversize, mannish coats, plus elbow-length silver gloves for a cool, modern look.
Many of the models clutched paper bags of popcorn to their chests, the bags advertising Calvin Klein, just like they might be selling product X, Y, or Z at your local AMC. Extending the metaphor, the acres of popcorn at our feet represented not just the prairie heartland, but also the movies, the connective tissue in a country where the metaphorical center and the coasts seem hopelessly divided. All this to say, Raf got conceptual here, and that got us thinking. Really thinking, in ways that happened all too rarely, given the state of things, this New York Fashion Week.
This article first appeared on Vogue.com.