N.Y. Fashion Week: Popcorn snowdrifts, prairie barns and hazmat chic litter the landscape of Calvin Klein's America

The floor of the American Stock Exchange building was filled ankle-deep in popcorn Tuesday night, blood-red cheerleader pom-poms hung from meat hooks in the weathered remains of prairie barns and futuristic airduct-tubing coiled up through scaffolding into the dark.

That may sound like a stock trader's feverish nightmare, but it was actually the set piece that greeted guests as they arrived at the fall 2018 Calvin Klein runway show here Tuesday night, and part of Chief Creative Officer Raf Simons' ongoing exploration of Americana.


It was such a surreal experience to see fashion editors shuffling through acres of popcorn to their seats and some of the more adventurous guests dropping to the floor to make popcorn angels (the heretofore unknown cousin of the snow angel) that we almost — but not quite — stopped trying to figure out what it all meant.

Looks from the Calvin Klein fall 2018 men's and women's runway collection presented on Feb. 13, 2018, during New York Fashion Week.
Looks from the Calvin Klein fall 2018 men's and women's runway collection presented on Feb. 13, 2018, during New York Fashion Week. (Slaven Vlasic / Getty Images)

Once the show started, the parade of orange hazmat suits, balaclavas and chunky round-toed utility boots made it clear. This was a future vision of the American Midwest where global warming — or perhaps nuclear war — had caused the fields of corn to pop en masse.

The models representing the workers charged with cleaning up the environmental disaster were clad in the collection's workwear-meets-Western-wear hazmat chic — diaphanous prairie dresses (that swept popcorn with every step) worn over chunky boots, blaze-orange jumpsuits, fur coats with orange horizontal stripes and knit protective headgear.

And the movie theater-style bags of popcorn some of the models clutched at their sides were clearly a commentary on how we, as Americans, would rather watch the disaster unfold than do anything about it.

Except, that wasn't it all. Or, more accurately, that wasn't at all the narrative Simons or his creative team specifically had in mind, but if that was what we pulled from the popcorn fields, ramshackle barns and blaze-orange jumpsuits, it was just as valid. The whole point, he said in the show notes, was the freedom for everyone to build his or her own narrative.

"It's an allegory for a meeting of old worlds and new worlds, relating to the discovery of America, the 1960s space race, and the 21st century information age," Simons said in a post-show release. "Reflecting the notion of democracy, there is no cultural hierarchy: the mixes emancipate clothing and references from their meanings, from their own narratives, and collage them to discover something different — a different dream. More than anything else, this collection is about freedom. A word that defines America and Calvin Klein."

(The popcorn was used because, from afar, it resembles snow, which is a no-brainer if you look at the photos, but it wasn't apparent during the show.)

For all those mental gymnastics, the clothes in the fall 2018 men's and women's "Landscapes" collection weren't a huge departure from the last two collections with Simons at the helm; the button-front shirts with Western-inspired contrast breast-pocket flaps were still in evidence, joined by floor-dusting prairie dresses so sheer that chunky knee-high work boots worn beneath were clearly visible. The marching band-inspired trousers were back, though, with side stripes rendered in reflective safety tape.

Geometric quilting patterns, a mainstay of the last two collections, were back as well, gracing women's dresses, over-the-elbow gloves and chunky knit men's vests, along with a couple of quilts lined with the silvery material used in fire blankets. (Maybe it was all the popcorn, but dresses in the same silvery material were a misfire, reminding us more of the puffed aluminum top of a freshly popped pan of Jiffy Pop than something to actually wear.)

The new work-wear reference this year came in the form of riffs on firefighters' turnout gear — those oversize utility coats with safety stripes — that could be seen in skirts, trench coats and at least one blaze-orange men's jumpsuit. Also in the mix were knit balaclavas in a range of colors and patterns that were worn by many of the models.

In addition to the brand's ongoing partnership with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts (Warhol artwork appeared on pieces in the collection and was also papered on to the barns in the background), Calvin Klein appeared to have licensed two of Warner Bros. best-known Looney Tunes characters — Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner; each one appearing on a single sweater in the collection.

Simons was more than happy to explain the symbolic importance. The characters "recall childhood innocence, the all-important idea of American youth," he wrote, "and they can also be seen as a parable of the pursuit of the American Dream."

Thanks to Simons, we'll probably never look at Wile E. Coyote — or popcorn — the same way again.


For more musings on all things fashion and style, follow me at @ARTschorn.