New York Fashion Week finally came to life Tuesday evening in the shadow of the valley of — well, not death exactly. More like a post-apocalyptic prairie seen through a B-movie lens. Toto, what happened to Kansas?
Raf Simons buried it under 50,000 gallons of popcorn.
Or, to be fair, he buried the floor of the American Stock Exchange building under 50,000 gallons of popcorn, trucked in for a wackadoodle Calvin Klein show. It piled up in drifts around the weathered sides of four skeletal barns hung with blood red Sterling Ruby mop heads and papered with spectral black and white Warhol reproductions. It was crushed under the shoes of guests, so little motes of popcorn dust blew through the air. They landed on the coats and skirts and hair of Michael B. Jordan and Nicole Kidman and Millie Bobby Brown (among many other famous people), making everyone look as though they had an unfortunate case of dandruff or had wandered into a Food Channel version of nuclear winter.
Then a model in a bright orange hazmat suit and waders appeared. Let’s rephrase: Welcome to the pop-calypse.
Since he arrived at the brand that bluejeans and minimalism built, Mr. Simons, who is from Belgium, has been fixated on defining his own brand of twisted Americana, largely built on the twin pillars of Laura Ingalls Wilder and “On the Road” (the Netflix versions) — after the rot set in. This season he took it even further, with women in giant tweed coats over sweeping lawn skirts and men in sweater vests that looked more like life vests over skinny suits and shirts buttoned tight to the neck. Everyone wore knit Fair Isle balaclavas and often big firefighters’ gloves in silver foil, which also was used in false-front A-line cocktail dresses trimmed in white lace that turned into camper-blanket sheaths at the back.
Also the two-tone cowboy shirts and placket trousers that Mr. Simons has used in every collection since his Calvin debut, and skinny striped sweaters and sweaters with Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner knit in, plus apron dresses with nothing underneath, so the breasts were exposed (a strange segue into Naughty Nellie from the general store). Quilting squares were pieced onto crisp white shirts and reworked as bias-cut chiffon evening gowns. The effect was all very survivalist. Simon & Garfunkle’s “Sound of Silence” played in the background. So did “California Dreamin’ ” by The Mamas & The Papas.
It was both a reductionist view of the country’s most accessible myths and also stomach-churningly right. That’s where we are now: drowning in a sea of puffed corn kernels and empty calories, appropriating the appropriators.
You might not like it all (though it’s not hard to imagine those homespun balaclavas becoming a thing the next time the temperatures hit minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit), but it was viscerally recognizable, the way really good fashion — which is not the same thing as wearable clothes — is supposed to be.