Late last night, beneath the Manhattan Bridge, hidden behind the fish markets of Chinatown, legendary art director Peter Saville leaned against a wall in his signature white jeans. As he waited for the Raf Simons show to start, the thunder of the Q train bore down upon him. A metal drink cart manned by a local resident gave out cold cans of Tsingtao to the standing-room-only crowd. Nearby, Christian Slater looked up at the red-and-white Chinese lanterns printed in Saville’s famous album covers for New Order and Joy Division. “I really want one of those lanterns,” Humberto Leon whispered. Luka Sabbat walked by, looking sweaty, but in a sexy, devil-may-care way.
Raf Simons doesn’t make arbitrary choices for where and how to stage a show, so venue matters for understanding his overall idea for a collection. “Blade Runner was the main inspiration, basically,” Simons told me. “Not so much because of what the movie is as a story, but more of how the streets are, how all these cultures gather together. I wanted to also have something which feels very close to the street. Hours before the show, it was very interesting, because it’s normally a marketplace, so everything was blending together — the people who come here every day and sell and buy, with all the things we were starting to build up.”
Indeed, there were a lot of sophisticated “things” built into this collection. Watching the subtle details of individual looks induced a buzz, amplified by the beer and the heat. Models like Julia Nobis cut a narrow path between the crowd, walking the wet sidewalk in knee-high, rubber rain boots with noose details, or pool slides with socks. They sheltered themselves from imaginary storms, holding clear umbrellas with glowing, lucite poles. Some carried the New Order lanterns as handbags. As this was Simons’s second consecutive collaboration with the Woolmark Company, many looks incorporated knitwear — tartan outdoor hats, oversized sweaters, and cocoon coats that took cues from early Balenciaga. “There was a lot of coat construction coming from mid-century couture,” Simons told me. “I think we kind of grabbed extreme references. ‘Punk’ is the wrong word, but like, an attitude where you dare to kind of bring things together, referencing what we actually like to reference, whether it’s a movie or a culture or a time,” he explained, as if anticipating comments about appropriation.
Yet the Blade Runner theme ran deeper than the setting. The word “Replicant” peeked out beneath all the wool, printed like a name badge on shirts. Small LED pins also displayed the term in both Chinese and English, a direct link to Ridley Scott’s cinema androids. Simons said the movie has been an inspiration for many years, though I can’t help but think it’s good timing for him to bring it out in a collection — the remake of Blade Runner comes out this fall, starring Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford. The Replicants nod is cheeky, coming from a designer with an interest in youth culture. “Replicants” are robots, so similar to humans that they can only be detected through a series of tests that measure their emotional responses. Replicants are dangerous, uncontrollable, seductive; familiar but alien — a little like young people.
After the show, Marc Jacobs found Simons in the adjoining public playground and gave him a hearty embrace. Friends like Julianne Moore, A$AP Rocky and top fashion editors gathered around Simons to congratulate him. The rest of the crowd dispersed into the humid night, swallowed by the cacophony of summer in the city.