In a recent discussion at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, close collaborators Raf Simons, the designer, and Sterling Ruby, the artist, mentioned their desire to “fuck with Americana”, which in Trumpian times has become ever the fashion statement.
I noticed at Francesco Ragazzi’s Palm Angels, at Milan Fashion Week’s menswear edition in January, there were similar notions at play. Palm Angels brought a disruptive sensibility to Italian fashion, a stark contrast to the suits and leather goods elsewhere in the fashion capital, but also to the perception of Americana.
Popular in fashion at the moment is the unshakeable trends dadcore (dressing as one's father would) and gorpcore (outdoor apparel-inspired fashion design). Both have appeared quite humbly on runways from New York to London to Seoul… but emerged in suburbia, where fathers dress for practicality as opposed to redefining neighbourhood fashion. It can be rather placid but unsuspectingly mocking of an industry that appears unable to flex a creative muscle at times. Enter Palm Angels. Tartan vs bootleg! Balaclavas vs 90s sunglasses! Spikes vs studs! Leather vs denim! Technicolour vs blue jeans! It echoed Simons’ and Ruby’s sentiments. Ragazzi’s injected the blue-collar American Midwest with punk. It rendered Americana through a new lens.
He took a plaid, common to both lumberjacks and punks, plastered it with the Palm Angels logo for a modern spin. Big-buckle leather belts and fanny packs were adorned with studs and logos.
He referenced Grant Wood’s unmistakable, instantly-recognisable ‘American Gothic’ painting—which is perhaps the most memorable images in 20th-century American art—and put it on a bomber jacket. He juxtaposed the exclusivity of the art world with a ubiquitous clothing item. It nodded to the cultural landscape in America— the endless divide between high culture and low culture.
Ragazzi’s rendition of Americana may not be an American’s perspective but, undoubtedly, he toyed with the perceptions of the outsider. There may be inaccuracies—isn’t there always? One could simply look back to 2016 when non-Americans were utterly convinced of Hillary Clinton’s victory in the presidential election, only to have their predictions thrown back at them by Donald Trump. The ‘forgotten-about’ states voted for the man they thought best represented their interests. In Milan, Ragazzi immortalised the trends which outsiders perceive mark the Midwest and refracted it anew—the punk meets the Midwest, who would’ve thought?