At Calvin Klein, Dressing for Dystopia

In his debut dual-gender collection for Calvin Klein last February the new chief creative officer announced that his show represented “the coming together of different characters and different individuals, just like America itself.” It was a big claim (albeit effectively realized), but on Thursday, for his sophomore effort, he took it a step further.

“It’s about American horror and American beauty,” he said in his show notes; the dream turned nightmare. The immediate interpretation of that one is easy — let no one say Mr. Simons, who is Belgian, shies away from current events — though the designer chose to approach his subject at a more oblique angle, through the American fantasy factory that is Hollywood. Because, like the movies, “Calvin Klein is an American institution.”

Slide Show

Calvin Klein: Spring 2018


But what does that mean at a time when many people now say they don’t recognize their country? That Mr. Simons is willing to offer an answer is both risky — and a little presumptuous. But it also reveals the level of Mr. Simons’s ambition. He’s attempting no less than a redesign of American identity: one in which, if it works, a number of the alienated electorate may see themselves.

Mr. Simons’s America is an America of the mind, rooted in the Midwestern prairies and resonating coast to coast by way of Stephen King, Sissy Spacek, Kim Novak and “Twin Peaks,” with stereotypes (cowboys! cheerleaders! lumberjacks!) just twisted enough so the references teeter on the tightrope between mythology and cliché. It is multilayered and riven by dualities, male or female no matter. And it is increasingly complex in its iterations.

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