Calvin Klein’s Graduation Ceremony Paints a Picture of the “Real World”

Around 8:30 p.m., a loud hush fell over a room packed with, on the one hand, venerated editors, models and influencers (née “personalities”) from fashion media’s old guard and, on the other, branded jeans, winged-toe cowboy boots and traffic control coats worn over the likes of Millie Bobbie Brown to inaugurate the start of Calvin Kein’s show.

The opening scene — a five-piece series of scuba suits folded down to mini dresses and pants and one errant graduation cap — walked against another scene, this one from the 1975 classic, Jaws, projected against the walls of the venue. Without familiarity of the movie (and the theme music that opened the show), you might not recognize this as the last time we’d see Chrissie Watkins, skinny dipping into the ocean while at a party in New England. It could instead look like the stunning end to a breathtakingly lazy, almost fantastical summer night.

But Raf Simons has made a habit of culling inspiration from American thrillers to inform his design direction (and viewpoint on the country), and with Jaws-branded tank tops tucked into scuba suits paired with thick wool blazers and rubber boots, this was a reference that could not fly over your head. The initial graduation caps, though? Sure, I could get it peripherally. Here we were graduating. Graduating! But graduating from what? From summer? A metaphor for glee and leisure and unilateral splendor — all of which are an illusion that negate Simons’s purported perception of reality in America, packed with horror and distress, heartbreak and grit?

Then right there, sprinkled between neoprene and Ruby Sterling’s blazer-topping fringe, the seductive object of the late 60’s drama, The Graduate, could be detected in boat neck shift dresses and pleated skirts and oversize knits and leopard prints. It was Mrs. Robinson, representing a similarly escapist impression, allowing for recently graduated Benjamin Braddock to suspend reality and drift through the withheld time of summer, free from responsibility, where the confrontation of the real world can wait.

In both of the depictions illustrated through his collection, Simons paints “the real world” (a euphemism I am using for his America) as a grisly place with damage freckling every corner. It is not a difficult representation to buy into and maybe that is why I am compelled to resist. To hold myself in an adapted version of the starting verse of Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” (which played to accompany the show’s finale as with seasons’ past). No longer passively in pursuit of America’s nobility, but dying to help embody it.

Feature image by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images. Photos via Vogue Runway.

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