From Steven Spielberg’s 1975 blockbuster and Andy Warhol’s portraits of Stephen Sprouse, to mid-century American couture gowns to 1967’s The Graduate: Raf Simons’ S/S19 collection for Calvin Klein 205W39NYC was a whistlestop tour through pop culture. Here’s a glossary of five key influences you need to know about.
1. Steven Spielberg’s Jaws
Jaws, the 1975 movie directed by Steven Spielberg which heralded the birth of the blockbuster, was perhaps the most prescient of inspirations – not least in the show’s set, a number of floor-to-ceiling screens which played its most memorable scene, that of a skinny-dipping Chrissie Watkins who never would make it out of the water. (The floor and chairs were, suitably, blood red.) References were direct – it took only until look three for the film’s ubiquitous poster to appear, printed on a T-shirt and overlaid with the “CK” logo, popularised by the brand in the 1990s. Backstage, Simons told of a visceral love of Jaws which has endured since childhood – and been percolating in his mind since beginning at Calvin Klein two years ago – noting post-show how “disasters happen but they turn again into beauty, and beauty is around us and it can oftentimes turn into disaster”. (In this spirit, Simons reported it was one of the first films to have made him cry.) This balance, between disaster and beauty, was perhaps best outlined in the show itself by a consecutive trio of delicate pleated skirts “bitten” along the hemline, as if attacked.
2. Mid-Century American Couture
“I’ve always been fascinated by the dress codes of different generations,” Simons commented in the show’s accompanying notes. “Of mothers and daughters, fathers and sons; how the changes between different generations of families reflect the changes of American society.” As such, the designer looked back to the 1950s and 1960s, where one generation’s impulse for conservatism prompted the rebellion of the next – not least in clothing. Here, a reference to mid-century “high society” and the American couturiers of the day – original chiné patterns recreated from the decade’s textiles were evoked throughout on folded cocktail gowns replete with bows, origami roses and diamante brooches. Typically, Simons presented these in unexpected fashion – describing the layers of fabric which made up each gown as “crashed”, they appeared almost two dimensional, as if flattened. Worn with plastic harnesses, or rolled down wetsuits in matching prints (and, of course, dripping wet hair) the end result was anything but conservative.
3. Mike Nichols’ The Graduate
Mortarboards and graduation gowns were almost-literal nods to Mike Nichols’ The Graduate, another of Simons’ long-favourite films (though of course, ironically considering its title, no such caps and gowns appear on screen in the 1967 film). The Dustin Hoffman-starring movie, based on Charles Webb’s 1963 novel, is an all-American telling of an adolescent existential crisis – in suburban Los Angeles, Benjamin Braddock has graduated from college but has no plans for his future, and through boredom and desire becomes involved with dissatisfied housewife Mrs Robinson before eventually falling in love with her Ivy League student daughter Elaine – and aligns with Simons’ continued exploration of Americana in his collections for Calvin Klein, right down to the Simon & Garfunkel tunes which soundtracked both the film and this S/S19 show. Less overt references to the The Graduate appeared elsewhere on the runway: the leopard print seen on skirts, cocktail dresses and scuba wetsuits quietly hark back to the seductive wardrobe of Anne Bancroft’s Mrs Robinson, for example (the rubber diving gear also recalling the 21st birthday present Benjamin receives, as well as carrying Jaws connotations).
4. Andy Warhol’s Photographs of Stephen Sprouse
“Stephen Sprouse was, arguably, the great American designer who never quite happened,” Alexander Fury wrote for AnOther last season – but, as he notes, Sprouse’s influence is omnipresent now as it was then – in effortlessly elevated graffiti, in an instinctive challenge to status and privilege, and in expensive and polished clothes that are nonetheless imbued with a sense of the downtown. Sprouse, whose name is synonymous with a 1980s NYC spirit, is also a figure closely related to Andy Warhol – which is how he has been drawn into Raf Simons’ swirling vortex of influences at Calvin Klein. It’s been a year since the brand announced that Simons had signed a partnership with the Andy Warhol Foundation that would last until 2020 – and as such, Warhol’s unmissable signatures, both well known and never-before-seen (from flower prints to portraits, they have appeared across sweatshirts, underwear, and tote bags, to name only a few) have become recurring motives at Simons’ NYFW shows.
This season, Sprouse made his presence felt at Calvin Klein by proxy of Andy Warhol’s 1984 portraits of him – brooding black and white images that deftly capture the mood of that era – inverted and printed here across acid pink, red, turquoise and black fringing, so as to splice Sprouse’s image and inject it into the powerfully cinematic collection. As Fury writes: “It’s that attitude – of questioning establishment values, of rebellion, of innovations – that is Sprouse’s strongest legacy.” And in Simons’ hands, it is perpetuated today as powerfully as when the fashion industry first encountered it.
5. Cultural Uniforms
Spielberg’s Jaws and Mike Nichols’ The Graduate might be the joint stars of Calvin Klein S/S19, but these two cinematic moments open the floodgates to a slew of cultural uniforms, whose influence crops up throughout the collection. There’s graduation dressing, conspicuous in mortarboards perched atop heads and gowns swung nonchalantly around shoulders, but also in schoolboy blazers. There’s occasionwear-style finery, in vibrant printed knee-length gowns wrapped with elaborate bows, pastel tuxedo jackets and neat drainpipe trousers. Most original and inescapable of all, though, is the proliferation of diving gear: neoprene wetsuits appeared soaked in water, worn underneath dresses and jumpers, rolled down to the waist (exposing a natty printed lining in leopard or bright florals). Deftly subverting the tired and familiar trope of the wet T-shirt competition, Simons’ sexiest looks were worn by men, their chests bare and glistening (with sweat or with seawater? Who knows) in an alluring parallel to rubber S&M gear, quietly echoing Mapplethorpe’s whip-yielding subjects. This is activewear, but not as you know it.