Raf Simons's First Runway Show in New York Paid Tribute to the Big Apple

The city is lucky to have him.
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The finale at the Raf Simons fall 2017 show. Photo: Imaxtree

The finale at the Raf Simons fall 2017 show. Photo: Imaxtree

Before the doors of the Gagosian Gallery even opened for Raf Simons's first-ever New York Fashion Week show on Wednesday night, attendees had a vague idea of what to expect. We knew the designer's fall 2017 collection would likely reference youth and rebellion, in part because his work usually does, and also because he told GQ as much in an interview published earlier this week. We figured that, on some level, it would probably be influenced by the state of the world. More specifically, the state of the USA, Simons's new home base thanks to his post as creative director at Calvin Klein — because, well, how could it not be? All of that proved to be true, but who knew Simons's big NYC debut would also be about sleeves?

The sleeves Simons presented — on coats, on sweaters, on hard-to-define hybrid pieces that draped across models' bodies and read "I <3 you" in a way that, in less-skilled hands, would make me eyeroll into oblivion, but here somehow worked — were interesting, bold and, at the risk of sounding like a brainwashed fashion writer, kind of exciting.

The hands-down winners were the outerwear pieces with a chunky knit section at the end of each arm; these wrist-to-elbow cozies were vaguely reminiscent of knee socks. They made me think about all the sleeves I currently own, straightforward and constructed from the same boring fabric as the rest of my coats, and sigh, "This could be us, sleeves, but you playing."

It's tempting to wax poetic about Simons's artistry and disregard the practical aspects of his clothing, because his designs are so beautiful and his collections so unfailingly cohesive that each season feels like a must-see, museum-quality artist retrospective. He makes statements via his work that are often profound, and he certainly has something to say about Times Like These. See, for example, the text on a T-shirt that ponders, "Any way out of this nightmare?" But another vital part of his genius is that, in addition to appreciating the work on the runway, Simons's shows make me immediately want to unsheathe my Amex and revamp my wardrobe. 

Who among the show attendees can honestly say they didn't want to take home one of those gorgeous striped and cropped sweaters that were unveiled at the show? How great was that boxy, purple windowpane tweed jacket that instantly elevated the suit over which it was worn? Simons paid tribute to the Big Apple with a graphic that riffed on Milton Glaser's endlessly inspiring I Love NY logo; you'll see those pieces on any number of slaves to fashion the moment they're readily available. And if you catch bloggers and would-be Instagram influencers fastening on statement necklaces or using duct tape to cinch the waists of their overcoats instead of belts, you'll have Simons to thank.

Last season, the designer made waves on the internet when his spring show, presented in Florence at Pitti Uomo, included a jacket that incorporated a Robert Mapplethorpe photo of an erect penis. (Surprise dongs tend to have that effect.) It would be unfortunate if anyone took that as a sign that Simons relies on shocks or smoke and mirrors to leave an impression. He's one of the few designers we have whose pure vision is more compelling than any gimmicks could ever be — a group that gets even smaller if you consider only those who show in New York. The city is lucky to have him, and so are fashion fans who, for once, are able to have their cake and actually wear it, too.