Raf Simons has long found fertile creative potential in what he calls the ‘Interzone’: those hazy and hitherto undefined middle grounds which are so often the focus of his menswear collections. Those could be intellectual divisions, like the space between high art and product design (a binary he consistently blurs), or more emotive ones such as memory, gender and, most famously, adolescence. Needless to say, Tuesday’s show, his second in NYC, was another original study in strange liminality, Simons style.
East is East
“East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” Kipling said it but Raf is one in a long line of artists to disprove it. Held underneath a bridge in Chinatown (how’s that for a liminal location?), this neon drenched spectacle inhabited some imaginative area between two very different cultural worlds. This wasn’t anything as simple as theatrical costume or limp appropriation, however. Taking plenty of inspiration from Ridley Scott’s Sci-Fi Noir classic Blade Runner – and not just through pieces printed with “Replicant” or the rain slicked floors – Simons’ world was more one of bleak fantasy than it was Orientalist re-creation. Wide brimmed floppy hats, neckerchief-masks and long, loose shorts may have brought to mind the distinctive agricultural styles of East Asia, but they were filtered and fractured through an altogether more futuristic and sinister lens.
Even those Chinese paper lanterns wielded by a smattering of models proved far from derivative thanks to the Joy Division graphics (“Substance”) stamped over them. Which brings us nicely back to memory, come to think of it. After all, some of Raf’s most iconic and coveted designs have utilised Peter Savile’s unmistakable album artwork and the two are long time collaborators and friends: this was as much about personal memory, personal history, then, as it was about a vividly articulated future. But a future this was nonetheless, and a bleakly dystopian one at that – a quick glance at those deconstructed fraying sweaters, haz-chem wellington boots and torn umbrellas was enough to tell you that. Raf Simons may well thrive in ambiguities, but there’s no mistaking who’s the King of New York.