The overwhelming reaction to Sterling Ruby’s magnificent debut collection, S.R. Studio. L.A. C.A., shown in Florence, Italy, proves there is a hunger and thirst for clothes that are joyfully exuberant yet brooding, streetwise and wearable yet artistic and highly idiosyncratic. It also points to a wide –ranging appreciation for craft that is authentic; not appropriated. For those who bemoaned Raf Simons’ exit from Calvin Klein, there is a reason to rejoice!
Sterling has already been described as “one of the most interesting artists to emerge this century,” and with this collection, he has officially been crowned “America’s most interesting new fashion designer.”
Immediately following the show, Suzy Menkes remarked, “That was the best new-person collection I have ever seen.” Not bad. And also, perhaps, not that surprising because the 47-year-old is not exactly a newbie.
Sterling is not only a renowned and prolific American contemporary artist; he learned how to use a sewing machine at the age of 13 and has been making clothes for 33 years. He is perhaps best known in the fashion world, as Raf Simons’ longtime collaborator; it’s almost impossible to think of one without the other.
They worked together on clothing and spaces for almost a decade, and he was responsible for taking Calvin Klein from minimal to maximal beginning with Raf’s inaugural collection for fall 2017. Sterling’s artwork and sculptures transformed not only the Klein runway shows, but the Calvin Klein showroom, and the Calvin Klein stores worldwide.
No doubt, Sterling came into his own as a designer on Friday night; it was a ‘fashion moment’ as they say. Unsurprisingly, much of this show had vestiges of CALVINKLEIN205W39NYC under Raf’s tutelage, and there were many parallels.
It was a reminder of what we have lost with his exit from the iconic American label. When Raf was good, he was brilliant. That is precisely what we need more of, and especially here in New York.
Everyone is talking about minimalism vs. maximalism as though it has to be one or the other. Quite frankly, I think the best is a combination of the two; minimal shapes with maximal impact, which pretty much sums up the brilliance of this collection.
At the heart of the collection were minimal, pared down, un-fussy wardrobe basics: jean jackets, jeans, second skin leggings, duster coats, patch pocket shirts, wrap skirts, oversized sweaters.
One real standout were the ponchos, hand made by Ruby himself.
Even though it was presented in conjunction with the menswear shows for spring 2020 at the Pitti Uomo trade fair (the venue was a 19th-century hay manger) it was entirely unisex and interchangeable; both male and female models were used.
The overall effect was streetwise, sporty, casual, and believable. It did not look contrived or forced. Lug-soled boots or heavy loafers grounded everything, and Ruby accessorized with slouchy shoulder bags along with smaller bags with industrial link hardware. Very cool!
Sterling’s varied influences as an artist are craft, punk, hip- hop, urban gangs, and graffiti, among other elements. His installations often appear scratched, dirty, or splattered and he has been known to work in a variety of media such as collage, sculpture, video, and textiles.
The fact that he was able to make such effective use of his enormous talent and translate it to fashion (and make it personal and autobiographic) is one of the main reasons the collection was so exceptional. The acid washed work wear, bleach splatter jeans, and photo prints (the photos were taken by Mr. Ruby’s wife, Melanie Schiff) were really an extension of all Sterling’s artworks.
While there is no word on when another collection will follow, all indications are they there will be a follow-up in the future. Not only was the response to this so overwhelmingly positive, the artist said that designing clothes is “more rewarding than creating a painting” that will hang on somebody’s wall.
As Sterling remarked, “It’s kind of fun to think of something being worn out in the world, and having movement, and that other people can see,” And he admitted enjoying it so much, he would love to do it again.