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Raf Simons’ horror-film-inspired sophomore collection for Calvin Klein is scary good

Expectations were high heading into the second Calvin Klein runway collection with Raf Simons as chief creative officer, and by all accounts, the Thursday night presentation of the brand’s spring and summer 2018 collection met — and exceeded — them.

Simons and the label’s creative director, Pieter Mulier, built on their debut fall and winter 2017 Americana-themed “Parade” collection by pulling inspiration from American films — good old-fashioned horror movies to be precise. “An abstraction, of horrors and dreams,” read the show notes, “[taking] its inspiration from cinema, from the dream-factory of Hollywood and its depictions of both an American nightmare, and the all-powerful American dream.”

The result was a sophomore collection, which was presented in a total-room art installation titled “Sophomore” (by artist Sterling Ruby, who also did the honors at last season’s show) that included firefighters’ axes and blood-red pompoms hanging from the ceiling.

It started out looking very much like the collection we saw last season (think western-inspired shirts, dark denim and floral lace dresses under slip-cover-like plastic). Then it veered abruptly off into a very dark place filled with blood-like paint splatters and screen-printed imagery of crossed kitchen knives, overturned ambulances and tainted cans of tuna from Andy Warhol’s Death and Disaster series on a range of tops, jackets and nightgown-like dresses. (This was a collaboration with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts that also included the artist’s prints of art collector Sandra Brant and actor Dennis Hopper.)

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This, of course, is how all good horror movies (think “Poltergeist” or “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) work. One minute it’s an ordinary and oh-so-familiar day in middle-class America, and the next minute you’re being splattered with blood by a chainsaw-wielding madman. Through this lens, crinkly plastic gowns could just as easily be body bags, molded-rubber dresses and arm-length gloves take on a sinister cast, and an otherwise unremarkable shade of orange — one of the standout colors of the collection — suddenly becomes “safety orange,” the universal harbinger of all things dangerous.

Taken all together, the parade of voluminous hand-painted leather overcoats, paint-splattered boots, knife-print lumberjack-check men’s suits, diaphanous run-from-danger nightgowns and road-cone colors could have come across as schlocky at worst and scary at best. But in Simons’ hands the result was scary good. To paraphrase a line from the 1979 horror film “When a Stranger Calls,” “the talent is coming from inside the fashion house!”

Also in the house? A constellation of celebrities that included Brooke Shields, Jake Gyllenhaal, Norman Reedus (“The Walking Dead”), Millie Bobby Brown (“Stranger Things”), Kyle MacLachlan, Kate Bosworth, Paris Jackson, Lupita Nyong’o, Christina Ricci and “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah, who, it turns out, was sitting front row at his first-ever fashion show.

“I thought I was going to be out of my depth,” Noah told us as he was headed backstage after the show, “but I think I actually understood it.” When asked if anything in particular caught his eye, he singled out the Andy Warhol screen-print pieces. “I think I could wear some of that,” he said confidently.

Noah wasn’t alone as a fashion-show neophyte. Mahershala Ali told reporters that Simons’ second runway show for the house was his first, and before the show he could be seen chatting with his “Moonlight” costars (and fellow Calvin Klein underwear models) Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes.

Another first-timer? That would be 16-year-old model Kaia Gerber, the genetically blessed offspring of Rande Gerber and Cindy Crawford, whose catwalk turn at Thursday night’s show marked her runway modeling debut.

adam.tschorn@latimes.com

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

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