It's safe to say Raf Simons' runway show was the marquee event of Men's Fashion Week. The Belgian designer — formerly of Dior, soon to debut with Calvin Klein — was showing his own, eponymous menswear label for the first time in New York, and the buzz was palpable as guests packed into the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea. What followed was essentially a love letter to New Yorkers — and a statement or two about current events.
Instead of belts, the young models, many clad in generous overcoats of wool or satin, simply wore duct tape to cinch their waists, emblazoned with "I (Heart) You" or "New York" or a cityscape, or non-geographical messages like "Walk With Me." Baggy deconstructed sweaters — some draped like scarves across the torso — also were emblazoned with "New York" or "I (Heart) You."
In a unique style accent, there were colorful, striped arm warmers piled on top of the coats — just like leg warmers, but arguably a lot hipper. Whether they would actually keep the arms warmer was not immediately clear. The young men also wore chunky necklaces.
After Wednesday evening’s show, as Simons accepted countless "welcome to New York" hugs, he explained what he was going for in the collection. First: youth. "It is very important for me, it's where I get my energy from," he said. On top of that, he wanted to portray the experience of New York from two perspectives: That of a young person visiting for the first time — as Simons did 20 years ago — who perhaps frequents tourist stores and buys kitschy trinkets, and that of a worldlier visitor who wears coats of shiny black satin.
"I wanted to go back and remember what it was like at the beginning, and combine it with the experience I am having now," said Simons, now making his home in New York. "So it's a fresh young attraction to the city, combined with what's happening now. Yes, of course the political situation."
Simons said the current political mood made him think about the potential of fashion as a means of social reaction or rebellion — and evoked thoughts of punk, in the '70s.
"Punk was a reaction to things that were happening," he said. "It was a reaction from a young generation of people who kind of created a dress code, but it was a political reaction to a moment," he said, adding: "If people like me could be of help, by being an inspiration (for young people) by what we say and what we think, then I think I would be very happy and proud. When you have a voice, you should use it."