It was endearing, really, to see how earnestly excited the kids were to see a Raf Simons show in the flesh. Gagosian Gallery on Wednesday night was packed with fashion’s biggest names, celebrities, designers of Simons’ stature, influential stylists and women’s magazine editors who wouldn’t normally take in a men’s fashion show, all there to see Simons’ American berth. This was a room of jaded observers who’d seen many of the designer’s collections before and who in the minutes between when the lights dimmed and the show began looked into the distance with practiced boredom, lest anyone confuse their presence for enthusiasm.
“I always think Raf’s shows are exciting,” the stylist Mel Ottenberg deadpanned before the show. “It’s funny because, you know, a lot of people that are here tonight have never been.”
But in the middle of it all was young Luka Sabbat, the Instagram influencer, who in his best vintage Simons looked as giddy as a teenage girl before a Zayn Malik concert.
“I’m here seeing the god in action,” said Sabbat, who was born in 1997, just two years after Simons showed his first men’s collection. “I wish I could really genuinely get all of this out but I could talk about it for three hours.”
Simons’ hold on the imagination of young men like Sabbat and A$AP Rocky, who was also front row, is unparalleled, and for the uninitiated the first showing of his eponymous label in their hometown had the makings of a religious event. Even for the cognoscenti, designers ranging from Joseph Altuzarra and the Proenza Schouler boys to Narciso Rodriguez, and artists like Sterling Ruby, a frequent collaborator of the designer’s, this was a happening that invigorated the sometimes pro-forma New York collections season.
“It’s a testament to him and how much admiration there is for him in New York,” Rodriguez said of the attendance of several of his peers.
Simons seemed acutely aware of the hype surrounding his big entrance and he leavened expectations with a collection that was impossible to resist even by hardened New Yorkers, as it was directed straight at them. From the first distressed sweaters that reworked Milton Glaser’s classic New York logo to read “I Heart York”, it was clear this was a love letter to his new home, where he’s moved his personal life and business, to run his eponymous label and Calvin Klein.
Simons is sometimes perceived as a minimalist, a cause of concern he remarked upon in the documentary Dior & I, which covered the making of his first haute couture collection for the French house. But if there was one trademark that his Fall 2017 collection underlined is that he’s always been a romantic. The first looks, elegant trench coats cinched at the waist by duct tape and paired with women's necklaces and arm warmers and knit crop tops bearing the words “I Heart You,” came out to Roxy Music’s melancholy “In Every Dream Home a Heartache.”
Unlike other designers, Simons is unafraid to wear his emotions on his sleeve, in this case literally, and in the end, it may be that sensibility that has fueled his cult of personality with young people like Sabbat who can namecheck specific collections of his that, in some cases, were made before their teens. He “gets” them, in other words—or, as Sabbat phrased it, “If you know, you know”— and their sincerity continues to be an animating design principle behind the label, his “Youth Project” as it read in some of the sweaters. This was a smart collection, too, one that delivered top-notch outerwear for the customers who can afford it and the sort of immediately recognizable pieces the internet adores—the “I Heart York” sweaters were everywhere on Instagram afterward and are destined to be the next Virginia Creeper—with styling that played on DIY culture. (Coming soon to Bushwick: duct tape belts!)
By the time a dreamy remix of “Keep on Loving You” closed the show, Simons had New York in his palm, and he did it all in under 15 minutes. “Oh my god, bro, I’m gonna, I’m gonna,” Sabbat swooned, almost out of breath, on our way out.”I’m gonna have to buy the whole collection.”
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