The soundtrack was Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon. "Nothing connected to anything that is now," said Raf Simons. "This has been nine years in the making," he added of the show he presented tonight with artist Sterling Ruby. That's how long the two have been friends, and they clearly communicate on such a deep and generous level that they were able to accomplish something quite unique in the ego-addled annals of art and fashion. Not a collaboration in the usual sense of designer hires artist for T-shirt design, but a full-on, both-names-on-the-label mind-meld. "This is our child," said Simons.
And even if you could pick out the faces of the parents in the finished product—silhouettes and proportions that were iconic Simons, flashes of the organic chaos of Ruby's art—the overwhelming impression was of an astonishing compatibility. For instance, anyone who wondered how the monumentalism of Ruby's work could possibly be conveyed—or contained—in a collection of clothing would have recognized symptoms of overscaling. But this is also a Simons signature.
A Ruby painting or sculpture often has an unfinished feel, an urgent sense of something protean arrested in motion. Simons made his name with clothes that traded on that same mood: deconstruction/reconstruction. They came together tonight in coats collaged with pieces of fabric that seemed in an upward rush, about to fly off their foundation. Items that looked like paint-spattered, bleach-splashed artist's workwear evoked images of The Clash, a reminder of how much punk's DIY ethos has motivated both Simons and Ruby. It infused the lineup with a spontaneous, handcrafted quality that felt like a riposte to the shiny Warholian propaganda of Simons' Spring collection.
Which was perhaps the point of the images in this collection. These included a shark's ravening maw and a grasping hand with luridly painted nails, and they were intended, said Ruby, as "icons of consumption." Both men have used photos and words to similar effect in their work. Among the words that reoccurred here as visual motifs were abus lang and father. The first stands for "abusive language"; Ruby acknowledged the second as his particular contribution. A possible connection between the two would have added a layer of psychological complexity, but Ruby would say only that father is a particularly loaded word, used here to imply "the indoctrination of the man."
The show clearly entailed an enormous amount of time and
effort—Ruby has never made soft sculptures as large as the handful that arched over the catwalk—but that was also the point. "What does labor mean now?" Ruby wondered afterward. It was a question that motivated both men while they were working together. Cliché dictates that hard work is its own reward, but in this case it was clearly an expression of something deeper: the joy of friendship, family, the dignity of craft, maybe even the mechanics of desire. Because—and here's the kicker—there was scarcely a soul in the place tonight who wasn't hungering for the clothes as they came down the runway.