Politics has converged with fashion in a way that it hasn’t in more than a decade. With the recent election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency, many from within and outside fashion have expected designers to take a strong stand, especially when so many were ardent Hillary Clinton supporters during the campaign. But we’ve seen many like Ralph Lauren (who eventually dressed Melania Trump for the inauguration), Carolina Herrera and Diane Von Furstenberg put aside their political convictions and publicly declare that they would dress the new First Lady. But what about a designer recently transplanted from Europe?
Raf Simons, the acclaimed Belgian designer who most recently held the top job at Christian Dior, moved to New York with his boyfriend only a few months ago to take the helm of Calvin Klein. Upon the official announcement of his new tenured position, it was also revealed that his own small signature label, which usually shows in Paris, would be shown on the New York calendar as well. But this was before the election results were tallied.
Simons told GQ’s Noah Johnson when speaking about his life’s dramatic recent changes, “Coming here. Living here. Your partner. Your dog. It’s a new city. New experiences. Starting a new job. And then suddenly—woosh!—something happens which is like the last possible thing you could even imagine…Literally, you start thinking, Oh my god. What did we decide here a half-year ago? And then you can go and sit there and [cry] or you can just say, I’m going to do my thing. I have things that I have to do. And I have not only a responsibility, but a challenge.”
In short, Simons’ New York debut was a love letter to a vibrant city that he has explored for twenty years. Riffs on Milton Glaser’s, the famed American graphic designer, famous I Love NY logo were knit into slouchy sweaters that either hung loosely or were so stretched across the neck that they slung crossbody like the robes on ancient Greek statuary. Coats were the biggest with one on nearly every model. Most were made of black satin, or at least had satin lapels, with a few other iterations in cream olive. All had wide, oversized shoulders and cinched waists and a few of the models sported muffs on each arm in contrasting hues.
The show was good, but not overwhelmingly so. The real tension seemed to be derived from a designer trying to present a collection as a political statement while also trying to be as inoffensive as possible. While Simon’s adoration of New York is genuine, his PC statements like, “If you want to have a voice, you can’t walk around it. If you have a voice, use it,” seem censored and somewhat hollow, most likely because as the new leader of an international brand with loads of financial ties he can’t afford to step on too many toes. Being that this is also his first showing in a new environment on the brink of a new phase in his personal life, I’m sure human nature’s inherent trepidation didn’t help. But Simons’ is one of the world’s greatest designers and he has a responsibility, to himself above all, not to interfere with his own gifts in order to stay safe. His career has proven that he isn’t one to shy away from hard things and I doubt he’ll start doing so now.
written by martin lerma