There were two FDNY wagons outside pre-show and an ominous cluster of unamused firefighters. Was this show going to get shut down before it began? As the Q and N trains rattled urgently over the Manhattan bridge above, the responders receded: Raf Simons’s second New York menswear show was legal.
For this one, we were clustered among the foundations of that bridge in the New York Supermarket on East Broadway. The smell of recently sold fish, the humidity, and the neon were all authentic. Team Raf sluiced extra water on the floor, plus added Chinese lanterns printed with the graphics produced by Peter Saville for New Order and more neon signs that spelled out the word Replicant.
What did it all mean? For now, we didn’t much care. The clustering crowd that included A$AP Rocky, Hanne Gaby Odiele, and Marc Jacobs were sipping their Tsingtaos, vaping hard, and simply enjoying the fish-fragrant freshness of a bona fide fashion moment happening at the slightly maligned but ripe-for-a-refresh New York men’s “threek” (three day week). As Jacobs observed “I love Raf and he’s a good friend, so I’m very glad he’s here. Although, I saw more of him before he got here than since he’s here . . . but, you know, Raf makes fashion. He’s a creator. So he brings a creativity to American fashion which I think is lacking, so I’m very happy to have him.”
So what did the creator activate tonight? Distressed tailoring both checked and plain under a canopy of umbrellas, sometimes with lit ferrules or shafts or semi-dismantled canopies. There were hints of Raf collections past in the hypersize collegiatewear and image-stamped garments transformed into bibs. There were women wearing clothes that, like the rest here, were neither menswear nor the other but more a disjunctive genderless anti-uniform. Wide-brimmed hats in floral print with added scarves-cum-dustmasks were countered by rope-fastened gumboots like those worn by municipal Japanese workers and fishermen. Trousers were sometimes wide and shroud-like. Saville’s graphic contours for Joy Division and lettering for New Order popped, and the setting plus heavy clues from those Simons-installed neon signs hinted at a soon-to-have-a-sequel inspiration.
In the circumstances, however, it was far less reliable to parse than to ask. According to Simons: “There are a lot of things that go back to my early days and why we started doing the things we did. So there was strong music references from the past, as you can see. But there are juxtapositions in a different way taken out of context, basically; it’s about movies (about Blade Runner, clearly), it’s about cultures sliding together—that’s the most important message for me, Asian culture and the culture of the west coming together. And you know there was a bit of new wave, punk attitude, but not aesthetically, more in the attitude like taking different kinds of things . . . good vibes . . . I wanted it to be energetic.”
Tonight Simons’s pot melted in purposefully directional disarray under the train-rattled Manhattan bridge. Whether a new generation will adopt his cues—something Simons implied he would be delighted to happen—to help their external self-determination remains to be seen. As a moment in time, however, this was a properly buzzing chapter in New York’s unwisely down-on-itself menswear scene that came served with a side order of fish as whiffily potent as those local naysayers’ counterproductive doubts. Wish it, and it will come—just like Raf did.