Designer Raf Simons revives Calvin Klein

Celebrities turn out to see the designer's first collection with the American fashion house.
The collection included plastic sheath dresses covered in feathers (left) and button-up Western-pocket shirts over turtlenecks (right).
The collection included plastic sheath dresses covered in feathers (left) and button-up Western-pocket shirts over turtlenecks (right).PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

NEW YORK • Calvin Klein is renewed. The nearly 50-year-old American brand famous for jeans and underwear looks youthful - but not immature, and sharp and relevant.

Belgian designer Raf Simons, the brand's new chief creative officer, situated it in the centre of a cultural conversation with a collection that was the talk of the town last Friday, the second day of New York Fashion Week.

Artful, contemplative and pointed, the collection for fall 2017 used fashion - Western shirts, heirloom quilts, sharp tailoring, blue jeans - as a rich vocabulary for unwinding a narrative about America as an ideal. Simons also excelled at a designer's most fundamental job: creating desirable, inventive clothes.

Past classics and familiar iconography were rethought: thick varsity rib-knit sleeves severed from their sweaters and layered over jackets; an updated classic denim in a dark wash and a 1970s vibe; black leather biker jackets embossed in silver roses; draped asymmetric stars-and-stripes skirts; and bedquilts- cum-Crombie coats.

Overcoats were sealed in clear protective plastic - recalling a 1970s crushed velvet sofa with its custom plastic slipcover. And sheath dresses were little more than layers of clear plastic stuffed with feathers.

The models were noticeably diverse - a parade of young men and women of all shades with long, flowing hair, spiral curls and tight kinks.

Last August's announcement that Simons would take the helm at Calvin Klein was greeted with great enthusiasm by a fashion industry hungering for something new and dynamic in New York. His reputation as a minimalist with an affinity for street culture and the visual arts seemed a perfect fit at an American brand, founded in 1968, that transformed blue jeans and underwear into sexual foreplay.

Held in the brand's headquarters, his show took place under a permanent installation by his frequent collaborator, artist Sterling Ruby - metal buckets and sheets of faded denim hanging from the ceiling alongside old cheerleader pom-poms and other detritus from a star-spangled America.

The crowd stretched from Calvin Klein models past to present (Lauren Hutton, Brooke Shields and Millie Bobby Brown) to celebrity royalty (Gwyneth Paltrow and Julianne Moore).

"It is the coming together of different characters and different individuals, just like America itself," wrote Simons in his show notes. "It is the unique beauty and emotion of America."

WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2017, with the headline 'Designer Raf Simons revives Calvin Klein'. Print Edition | Subscribe