The collection was scarcely optimistic, but it had a riveting tension between Middle American propriety and queasy sensuality


A huge wraparound screen showed the opening moments of “Jaws”. There was trepidation. Would we see the shark bite? No, before that dread moment, the first model claimed our attention… in a tweed blazer over a wetsuit! A shock. Not the shock of a shark bite, but still something designed to unhinge.

And so the presentation of Raf Simons’s latest collection for Calvin Klein unspooled, like a surreal celluloid mash-up. “Jaws” was obvious. The screens and the t-shirts made it so. The college boys on the catwalk in mortarboards and gowns needed a little more time. Simon and Garfunkel on the soundtrack were a help. “The Graduate”, said Raf usefully, after the show.“These two movies were important in my own memory.” And here they were used as benchmarks in his latest survey of America’s psychological and emotional landscape.

In the past, under the influence of his masters Hitchcock and Lynch, Simons has exposed the monstrous core of the American dream. Monday night’s show was no different. His theme was, he said, the way “ultimate beauty can turn into ultimate disaster, in love, nature, politics”. The human condition in one tight little ball, in other words.

In that light, the collection was scarcely optimistic, but it had a riveting tension between Middle American propriety and queasy sensuality. On the one hand, crushed floral cocktail dresses, randomly studded with brooches, and paired with kitten heels. On the other, sweaty black rubber wetsuits. Mrs Robinson, may I introduce you to Bartholomew Quint.

The two worlds collided in sunray-pleated skirts with huge shark bites taken out of them, an image that was the surreal but campy quintessence of all those scenes in Hitchcock and Lynch movies where emblems of everyday life become suffused with dread.

It’s a feeling that Simons conveys regularly in his work, not only for Calvin Klein but in his own collections too. Think back to his letter sweaters, frayed, nibbled by God knows what. Here, it was amplified in those crushed cocktail dresses, with their peculiar sense of incipient catastrophe, or in the conventional tailored blazers and knitwear paired, extremely unconventionally, with black rubber.

The mood was a world off the rails, with a huge, monstrous id cruising just below the brittle surface of things, waiting to chew propriety to shit. Feel free to isolate a political subtext in that.

The show closed, as has become custom at Raf’s Calvin, with Bowie’s “This is not America”, except that here it was quickly supplanted by “Scarborough Fair”, Simon and Garfunkel’s madrigal from “The Graduate”. Sweetness, sadness… it was the last gasp of a strange, ambiguous presentation, where hope was under heavy manners.