Art and design






Life and style








US news

World news

Calvin Klein rewrites script to give a vision of a turbulent America on the catwalk

Model on the catwalk at the Calvin Klein show, New York Fashion Week.
A model wears a balaclava on the catwalk at the Calvin Klein show. Photograph: Swan Gallet/Rex

Popcorn is a fashion-approved snack, so editors in New York for fashion week would have appreciated the invitation for Calvin Klein’s show: a bag of popcorn wrapped in a silver envelope.

The popcorn theme continued at the venue, but turned the emoji-friendly symbol for a night at the movies into something more surreal.

For the show on Tuesday evening, there was a carpet of the stuff covering the floor of New York’s stock exchange building.

Popcorn is, of course, the fodder of trashy entertainment, but this was far from the case here. Calvin Klein under Raf Simons is about highbrow fashion with artistic references.

Topping the popcorn carpet were several knocked-together barns and scaffolding with huge red pompoms attached. It looked less like a typical runway show and more like an art installation, and was one in fact – set-designed by Bureau Betak, it featured artwork by Simons’ collaborator Sterling Ruby.

This one had more celebrities in situ: Nicole Kidman, Lupita Nyong’o and Margot Robbie were in the front row, along with Simons’ favourite Stranger Thing, Millie Bobby Brown. This is Simons’ third collection for Calvin Klein since joining the brand in summer 2016.

Margot Robbie, Nicole Kidman and Laura Dern in the front row at the Calvin Klein show at New York Fashion Week.
Margot Robbie, Nicole Kidman and Laura Dern in the front row at the Calvin Klein show. Photograph: Swan Gallet/REX

His previous outings have been equally thoughtful but had a cleaner, more graphic take on American dressing. This was more layered: models wore long overcoats over longer skirts, with silver elbow-length gloves and balaclavas that looked hand-knitted.

The reflective strips found on the uniforms of workmen and firemen were transferred to cropped jackets and billowing parkas, while some dresses had the sheen of the blanket given to marathon runners at the end of a race.

These industrial details were contrasted with a series of pretty prairie dresses in the middle of the show and playful knits of Wile E Coyote and Road Runner.

The soundtrack was equally discordant, mixing classics such as Sound of Silence and California Dreaming with headache-inducing bass tones. Put simply, this was a collection for turbulent times.

Models on the catwalk at the Calvin Klein show for New York Fashion Week.
Balaclavas and reflective strips are a departure for a fashion label once known as the home of minimalism. Photograph: Rodin Banica/REX

After the show, Simons said he had been inspired by “heroes, a lot of them, from firefighters onwards”. He said he was now able to experiment with American symbolism more, and that references included Nasa and Sofia Coppola’s 2017 film The Beguiled. This mix created, as the show notes said, “A different dream”.

In less than 18 months, Simons has transformed Calvin Klein from the home of minimalism and naked supermodels to something that aims to drill down into where America is at now.

Simons, who is Belgian-born and worked at Christian Dior prior to Calvin Klein, has used his outsider edge to add much-needed cool. Under his directive, Calvin Klein has collaborated with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, dressed the cast of Stranger Things and – most recently – photographed the Kardashians wrapped in a patchwork quilt for their underwear campaign.

This show is the latest chapter in rewriting what an all-American icon looks like in a world of fire and fury. It’s a whole lot weirder than that bag of popcorn might suggest.

While Simons’ catwalk work has been greeted with rave reviews, the bottom line is where it matters for parent company PVH. There is evidence this is working; revenue was $467m in Europe in the third quarter of 2017, up 20% on the previous year.

The sellout rate from May 2017 – the number of products that sell out entirely – has been 10.9%, compared with 6.4% for Giorgio Armani. It still has a way to go, however, to catch hyped brands on the radar of younger consumers.

In trend forecaster Lyst’s hottest brand index, Calvin Klein was at 49, while Gucci was at number 1.

This article titled "Calvin Klein rewrites script to give a vision of a turbulent America on the catwalk" was written by Lauren Cochrane in New York, for The Guardian on Wednesday 14 February 2018 04.38am


A field guide to spotting a good shag | Brief letters

Your “Mullets we have loved” (In pictures, 17 February) was highly flawed. Half of these “mullets”… Read more

Prada's Milan show captures the dazzling and the intricate

If the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to function while holding two opposing… Read more

'So much purpose. So much talent': punk designer Judy Blame dies aged 58

Most people know of Judy Blame, who died on Monday, aged 58, for his era-defining work styling and… Read more

From pencil brows to sitting on plates: this week’s fashion trends

Going up Gwyneth Paltrow in Sliding Doors Pencil brows are making a comeback thanks to cult Insta… Read more

Max Mara's Milan show puts strong femininity centre stage

One of fashion’s most significant recent macro trends is the rise of the power coat. This very… Read more

London fashion week storms the palace (and the galleries)

Erdem snaked a catwalk through the National Portrait Gallery, Christopher Kane commandeered Tate… Read more

What I wore this week: lilac | Jess Cartner-Morley

Context is all, Margaret Atwood wrote. I couldn’t agree more. I mean, I wouldn’t even make a… Read more

Queen makes surprise appearance at London fashion week

There are few people that can get the usually aloof fashion crowd giggling in a state of high… Read more

Gucci shuns glamour and sex for philosophy and severed heads

As a reflection of fashion’s shifting aspirations, the remarkable overhaul of Italian mega-brand… Read more

Gay men are winning this year’s Winter Olympics – and making it a joy to watch

You mentioned London fashion week last week, but have totally ignored the major cultural event… Read more