A real New York fashion show in a Chinatown market

The crowd at the Raf Simons show, held underneath the Manhattan Bridge in Chinatown, which included Jake Gyllenhaal, center left, in New York.
The crowd at the Raf Simons show, held underneath the Manhattan Bridge in Chinatown, which included Jake Gyllenhaal, center left, in New York.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (NYTimes) - Change the name and New York Fashion Week: Men's in its earlier iterations might as well have been Topeka Fashion Week: Men's, so little did it engage with the great metropolis. Shows held in generic repurposed industrial spaces could have taken place in any city, anywhere. Fashion, as Stefano Tonchi, the W editor and sometime curator, once said, "is not about clothes" so much as the expression of an overall cultural gestalt. Lacking the frame of a city and a world, catwalks quickly devolve into Habitrail wheels.

The Belgian designer (and chief creative officer of Calvin Klein) Raf Simons upended all that on Tuesday with a moody nighttime show of clothes designed for his own label. He staged it in a Chinatown market with messy stalls clustered among the massive stone foundations of the Manhattan Bridge. Malodorous, clamorous, and with N and Q trains racketing overhead, the setting was Simons' homage to the animal market scene in Ridley Scott's dystopian classic Blade Runner (1982), with the addition of ripe fish-market smells.

Printed on pendant paper lanterns and glowing in neon signs was the word "Replicant", rendered in the graphic font Peter Saville once produced for New Order. That Simons' allusions led to no place in particular hardly seemed to matter to a mob that included Jake Gyllenhaal, Marc Jacobs, Julianne Moore, A$AP Rocky and hundreds of other New Yorkers, who are never happier than when being crowded, deafened and herded in the direction of something new.

And Simons is that, a welcome, if exacting, novelty in a city and business lost in indecision. He is an almost dictatorial creator firmly in command of a vocabulary - a formalist trained to design industrial products, who happened into fashion somewhat inadvertently.

Sometimes the accidental path is the best one. New York has plenty of well-schooled journeymen capable of producing designs whose general staleness no amount of clever styling can disguise. Ideas, on the other hand, can often seem scarce, and the concealing, genderless, uniform-style clothes that Simons showed had plenty of those.

Models carrying umbrellas, as if against toxic fallout that left some parasols in shreds, paraded past the standing crowd, all but concealed inside shiny conical raincoats with anatomically suggestive puckered armholes. Their faces, too, were mostly hidden by protective scarves and wide-brimmed floral hats.

Their limbs were lost inside clinging tunics, oversize collegiate sweaters and flowing trousers printed with blurred silk-screen motifs. The roped gumboots on models were reminiscent of those worn by workers at Tokyo's famous Tsukiji fish market, and were among the many nods Simons made to a continuing fascination with the intersection of East and West.

Moments before the show started, at roughly 10pm, production assistants arrived with big white plastic fish pails and sloshed water all over the pavement to ramp up the atmospherics. At this bit of added verisimilitude even some die-hard Simons fans cried foul.

"Do you know how much these shoes cost?" one fashion editor said, sidling away from the creeping tide. "Honey! Céline!"