raf simons’ manchester-chinatown sci-fi led the culture clash at new york men’s
From Feng Chen Wang’s Made In China statement to recent NYC immigrant Raf Simons’ Blade Runner and New Order inspired Chinatown extravaganza, designers explored cultural internationalism on day one of New York Fashion Week: Men’s.
Raf Simons spring/summer 18
After spending a day in the white, clean and unexpectedly serene New York Fashion Week: Men's show spaces at Skylight Clarkson Square and Cadillac House, the Raf Simons' show in Chinatown was a full-on assault on the senses. As the crowd queued under the eaves of Manhattan Bridge, the smell from the day's fish stalls hung in the humid air, and trains rattled deafeningly overhead, a cacophony that intensified when the fire alarm went off and two fire trucks screamed up East Broadway to the show location.
The invitations gave an address at number 75, a Chinatown mall called New York Mart that Raf discovered when cool new gallery space, book and record store 2 Bridges opened last year, but the show was actually held in the space out the back, directly under the huge piers of Manhattan Bridge.
Transformed into the neon-lit Chinatown of Ridley Scott's sci-fi epic Blade Runner, Raf told press he wanted to reflect the meeting of different cultures within his new metropolis, following his move to take the reins at Calvin Klein last year. "That's what the streets are about, that's what's inspiring to me, living in New York," he said. "I think you feel that very strongly compared to when you come from a small village in Belgium." The space was dotted with carts serving Tsingtao beer, and lit by paper lanterns that read either 'Replicant' in Chinese characters (a nod to Blade Runner), or were printed with Joy Division and New Order album covers -- reflecting both a cinematic vision of his new hometown, and hinting at the renewed collaboration with Peter Saville that was revealed in the collection.
Buckets of water were tipped out along the runway while pouring rain sound effects played overhead, and smoke was blown into the space just before the first model stormed out to the slamming beat of Don't Crash by pioneering 80s Belgian industrial group Front 242. Dressed for wet weather, the first looks presented oversized, cocoon-like shiny black and blue leather car coats with ribbed wellington boots and check-print fishing hats with matching neck protectors. Then came oversize tailoring, with wide trousers cropped high over the rubber boots, gabardine trench coats, and one-shoulder tops and wrap skirts inspired by monks robes in Asia. "Right after the Calvin show we were traveling to Shanghai and Cambodia and Thailand," Raf explained, adding, "I was very inspired by the culture and the mentality".
For a designer who only a few seasons back printed 'To the archives, no longer relevant' on his clothes, this season's heavy references to his own archive were perversely new. Printed cotton tabards were reminiscent of his celebrated spring/summer 17 Robert Mapplethorpe collection, which was worn by numerous show goers, including emerging NBA star and CFDA ambassador Kelly Oubre Jr; while oversized varsity knit sweaters nodded back to Raf's spring/summer 16 collection. Jersey vests and slashed sweatshirts printed with Peter Saville's New Order and Joy Division album artworks, referenced and developed Raf's autumn/winter 2003 collaboration with the graphic designer, when the album art was printed on parkas. It's an iconic partnership: people pay up to $10,000 for those parkas now, and two of them are currently on display at the True Faith exhibition at Manchester International Festival. Speaking after the show, at around 11pm in the dark corner of an adjacent children's play park, Raf explained that his collaboration with Peter Saville has been an ongoing one - he still works with him at Calvin Klein.
Though Raf's own label is a grand 22 years old, his appointment at Calvin Klein and move to NYC has made him the most exciting new name on the local fashion scene, and the show was attended by diverse set of friends and celebrities. Campaign star A$AP Rocky rubbed shoulders with Marc Jacobs, DJ Michel Gaubert, actor Christian Slater, and models including Liya Kebede, Hanne Gaby Odiele, Natalie Westling and Slick Woods. As New York fashion's most famous new immigrant, i-D asked Raf if he was compelled to celebrate the city as a melting pot of cultures in light of the current political climate. "I was looking a lot in my own environment and world, and more and more I'm opening it," he said, explaining, "It's not always to have a direct political reference, but it's definitely something that kind of goes through you. You know, I moved from Europe to here, and things change, and how are we going to deal with them? I'm inspired to make people feel very positive about what I see and experience, even if it's just a fashion show, with no political impact."
A similar statement was made at the start of the day by Feng Chen Wang, a designer who graduated from the Royal College of Art in London and has shown as part of Fashion East's MAN group show for several seasons, but brought her latest offering to New York. Feng's clothes proudly proclaimed 'Made In China', foregrounding her heritage and challenging assumptions that the phrase relates only to cheap mass-produced clothes by highlighting the craft that goes into her collections, which are all produced in China. "I bring my experience out to everybody to show what 'Made in China' is for me, and then I can redefine what [that phrase means]," she told i-D backstage. Building on her previous work, the collection included brushstroke dark denim workwear, Feng's signature ruched technical fabrics on jackets and long gauntlet gloves, and neat open-seam detailing on T-shirts and sweatshirts. Natural hues referenced the Chinese landscape, accented by baby pink and bright red -- "China red," Feng smiles.
A more open-ended idea of travel and seaside summer holidays was presented at BOSS, where sailor boys in light toned casualwear mixed with city boys in duck egg blue tailoring. Short sleeve shirts were worn tucked into shorts and belts had buckles that looked like they might be used in the rigging of a sailing boat. Embracing the logo culture that has emerged in New York via subculture-inspired brands like Hood By Air, the collection included a H-B-N-Y motif printed in red on black polonecks, layered under patent leather trenches. The bucket hats and raincoats spoke to 90s Madchester several hours before Raf Simons' very different tribute.
Perhaps the buzziest show of the day was by Patrik Ervell, whose design studio sits above Opening Ceremony in the Lower East Side, where his garments are on show in the store's windows throughout NYFW Men's. The Californian (whose parents are Swedish immigrants), referenced the "convergence of new-age mysticism, back-to-nature utopian aspirations, echoes of the counter-culture and the beginning of the tech revolution" in the San Francisco of his youth, according to the show notes. This translated to brightly coloured windbreakers worn with luxurious black leather shorts, colourful little plastic bags like mini versions of the famous Jil Sander acetate market bags, and coloured biro-style spirograph print T-shirts. The juicy colour palette was remarkably similar at both Gustav Von Aschenbach (a new project by Robert Geller, named after the protagonist of the merchant of Venice), and -- Wimbledon fans close your ears -- a brand called Death to Tennis, where artist Keith Mackie's 'mystical peacock' print accented well-cut casualwear, presented by models metaphorically 'peacocking', admiring themselves in mirrors and taking selfies.
In a fashion capital known for its commercial, more than conceptual, focus, it was clear on the first of the three-day fashion week that a message of defiant internationalism and a kaleidoscopic representation of the city's cultures can be powerful, even when it is not directly political.
Text Charlotte Gush
Photography Mitchell Sams [Death to Tennis image courtesy]