On Friday in New York a newly arrived Belgian immigrant seemed more likely than a certain orange-faced antagonist to make America great again.
Ex-Dior genius Raf Simons presented his much-anticipated first runway show for Calvin Klein, with a cast of iconic Americans front row.
SJP, DVF, Gywneth Paltrow, Julianne Moore, Kate Bosworth, Karlie Kloss and former Calvin Klein models Brooke Shields and Lauren Hutton looked on as Simons and his right-hand man Pieter Mulier pushed the refresh button at the house that’s been an American fashion institution since the 1970s.
Simons’s new job title at Calvin Klein is Chief Creative Officer. Mulier (with whom Simons worked closely at both at Jil Sander and at Dior) is Creative Director. They’re a tried and tested team, adored by fashion insiders. So what about the clothes?
The duo hinted at what to expect a few weeks back when they announced Calvin Klein’s By Appointment line on Instagram. Inspired by cheerleaders, debutantes and majorettes, this made-to-measure collection was about “American pragmatism and playful pop iconography,” they said.
For ready-to-wear, they turned a little darker. To the strains of David Bowie’s This is Not America, they showed tailoring – double breasted jackets, high-waisted pants, oversized trenches – with a subversive edge.
Think: the flash of blood-red cowboy boots, the curious use of clear vinyl, crops and cut-outs, trapped feathers. Fake-chaste high-necked sweaters featured sheer panels that revealed nipples. All this was anchored by inky dark denim in jeans and jean jackets – such a reassuring fabric, isn’t it? Less cosy was a fringed flag-design skirt, slinking out from beneath a long-line, slightly too big textured coat. What did it mean?
An official Instragram post of this look saw one fan commenting, “I want to be a part of this America.” Presumably: modern, inclusive, and down with current thinking on gender – the show combined men’s and women’s looks, and showed see-through sweaters for all.
Leader of the pack - Tommy Hilfiger and models at Tommyland LA
Tommy Hilfiger’s take on Americana was more cookies and milk, with teenage dream clothes fit for Gigi wannabes keen on fairground attractions. This time, the Tommyland extravaganza hit LA. The concept – basically a giant fashion fun park with customers as well as media and influencers invited - was launched at New York fashion week last season. It’s a revolutionary one, built on “see now, buy now”, pulling down the velvet rope and dragging the fashion system into the future.
The clothes, however, remain firmly rooted in the past. Once again co-designed by Gigi Hadid, there were bombers and varsity jackets, striped T-shirt dresses, baseball jerseys, bikini tops and cute denim with badges and patches. Red, white and blue is in. Cowboy boots are back. Knits are lurex in stars-and-stripes designs.
But just how good for business will sartorial patriotism prove in these turbulent times?
Trump is proving as divisive as expected. Though the year is young, we’ve already seen #adiosstarbucks trending on Twitter as social media campaigns urge Mexicans to boycott US companies. While Business of Fashion noted recently that most fashion brands seem keen to stay out it, Levis and Nike condemned the so-called Muslim ban, while Diane von Furstenberg spoke out. She said she was, “personally horrified to see what is going on.”
In December, the LA Times speculated that the “Made in America” label might morph into a political slogan, thereby losing its lustre for those who oppose Trumpism. Some consumers prefer not to be associated with it.
On the other hand, pro-Trump shoppers are reportedly boycotting Nordstrom, which has declined to reorder Ivanka Trump’s shoes.
Meanwhile the “should-we-dress Melania?” debate continues - although who’s really going to refuse to take her money apart from Tom Ford?
Hailey Baldwin, Bella Hadid & the Tommy squad on the runway in LA
Not Hilfiger, who told WWD last year: “I think Melania is a very beautiful woman and I think any designer should be proud to dress her…. I don’t think people should become political about it.”
The problem is: that doesn’t really work, does it? People already are political about it. Not since the 1960s has politics seemed to matter so much.
In 2017 can anyone don a garment emblazoned with an American flag design without feeling like they’re making some sort of statement?
I doubt it.
Now, that statement might be that you’re behind President Trump: that you reckon it’s time to making America great again, goddammit! Or perhaps your point is the opposite: that one idiot who thinks Belgium is a city does not represent your America; that you’re dressed to remind the world of Lady Liberty’s values.
Of course your statement might be something more singularly fashion: that you’re excited about Simons at Calvin Klein (and you know a great skirt when you see one). Or merely that you’re keen to look like one of Hilfiger’s gorgeous models. As to how your star-spangled-banner gear will be read by others, who can say? No one knows the truth anymore.