American dream met American nightmare at the hottest fashion ticket in New York Thursday as Raf Simons soaked up the love for his second outing at Calvin Klein, the iconic label he's revamping to adulation.
In a nod to past and present, Cindy Crawford's 16-year-old daughter Kaia Gerber, treading in the footsteps of her supermodel mother, made her runway debut for the 2018 collection, watched from the front row by Brooke Shields, the label's most famous teen model in the 1980s.
Also watching was Paris Jackson, only daughter of Michael, and Oscar-winning actor Mahershala Ali, best known for Hollywood movie "Moonlight" about an African-American gay man growing up in Miami. "There are no words to describe how I feel... I love you endlessly Raf!" tweeted Gerber after to her already 50,000 followers.
Calvin Klein was the most eagerly awaited event at a New York Fashion Week, which kicked off Thursday, but which critics worry is losing its luster as top talent defects to join what are frequently considered more creative and avant-garde juices flowing in Paris or London.
"It's about American horror and American beauty," said Simons, whom the label hired last year and in June became the first person since Klein himself to be honored by the Council of Fashion Designers of America as best women's and menswear designer in one year.
"Fashion tries to hide the horror and embrace only beauty. But they are both a part of life. This collection is a celebration of that: a celebration of American life," he added. The inspiration, so said the Belgian, came from cinema -- or more precisely -- "the dream-factory of Hollywood and its depictions of both an American nightmare, and the all-powerful American dream."
Considered one of the finest designers of his generation, the 49-year-old has the rare skill of preserving the unique DNA of Calvin Klein -- its androgynous-style suiting in particular -- and yet making it fresh. Simons mimicked his first collection in February by again hosting the show at Calvin Klein's headquarters in the Garment District.
The room was again decked out in artwork by Ruby Sterling this time entitled "Sophomore" -- conjuring up the idea of a second iteration, "the idealized American teenager" and Americana. Jack-o-lanterns, pick axes and cheerleading pom-poms dangled from the ceiling.
It was naughty and nice; sexy and demur; dramatic and innocent; feminine and androgynous while remaining minimalist and urban. Full-skirted, 1950s-style silhouettes were reimagined in nylon, rubber from Ohio -- part of the decaying manufacturing heartland that voted for Donald Trump last year -- and hand-painted leather.
There were nods to the label's history of transgressive sexuality, plenty of orange, yellow, black and red, and a selection of prints from that most famous of American 20th century artists: Andy Warhol. There were red patent leather cowboy boots, and matching pants and shirts worn together that created an elongated, seamless silhouette.
A red and white coat almost appeared almost blood-stained, a prom dress was fashioned in the black bin liner look and demure tight pencil skirts were sexed up with long burgundy latex gloves. For the evening there were cheerleader's pom pom-style tassel dresses that flounced with abandon as the model slinked down the catwalk, and exaggerated pom-pom style drooping bags.
Simons, who also has his own label, was previously best known for breathing life into Dior after John Galliano was fired in 2012 following an outcry over anti-Semitic insults he made in a Paris bar.
A silhouette of Shields, who modeled for Calvin Klein in the 1980s and famously uttered: "You wanna know what comes between me and my Calvin's? Nothing" is stamped on the back of the label's new jeans. "It's quite extraordinary," she told Women's Wear Daily. "I'm a fan."
Quest for meaning
The other highlight of the day was rag and bone, the label co-founded by Britain's Marcus Wainwright inspired this season by music festivals such as Glastonbury, the annual June fixture in southern England. Eschewing the traditional runway, the label unveiled its collection with photographic portraits as the clothes hung on coat hangers.
"I don't believe in the runway show anymore," Wainwright told AFP. "If I want to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to show you guys clothes, the question is 'is the runway the best way?' You see it but does the customer see it? Does it mean anything anymore?" (AFP)
Photos: Calvin Klein © 2017 Giovanni Giannoni