Is Raf Simons too high brow for Calvin Klein?

Calvin Klein, once a purveyor of pared-down American luxury, has matured, if not morphed, into a mid-market underwear and jeans brand.

Prior to its founder exiting the company, Calvin Klein was a go-to label for tailoring, high-end workwear and a home collection that was equally luxe as it was functional. Its Madison Avenue store was a beacon of American fashion at its best.

The 1980s and 90s were the era when Calvin Klein built a solid business via its jeans, underwear and fragrance licenses, while simultaneously publishing some of the most talked-about advertising campaigns which cemented the brand's global image. It was during this time that CK became a bonafide blockbuster brand.

But blockbuster sales of underwear and jeans quickly overshadowed the company's ready-to-wear, which became less of a focus when serious revenue was generated from other channels. Its mainline, called Calvin Klein Collection, was rare available internationally, and could only be bought from its eponymous uptown Manhattan boutique.

When Raf Simons took the helm in 2016, he was handed full creative control of the company, a responsibility not afforded to its previous designer, Francisco Costa. Simons has since been credited with repositioning the mainline catwalk collection, 205W39NYC, back into the stratosphere of fashion relevance.

Simons' art installation vision of Americana is not a revenue success

But Simons, who is often referred to as a cerebral designer and stylist, hasn't managed to make his high brow art installation version of Americana a revenue success. “While many of the product categories performed well, we are disappointed by the lack of return on our investments in our Calvin Klein 205W39NYC halo business and believe that some of the Calvin Klein Jeans relaunched product was too elevated and did not sell through as well as we planned,” the company announced in an earnings statement on 29 November.

In an earnings call with investors on 30 November, PVH CEO Emanuel Chirico, parent company to Calvin Klein, said he was "disappointed that our investments in the 205 collection business have not delivered the results we expected. We will cut back on a number of these planned investments in the 205 collection business, and as we move forward we will retaking a more returns oriented commercial approach to this important business. Second, we will shift the focus of our marketing campaigns going forward, as they have been too skewed towards our higher and 205 line and the high fashion consumer. Further, we will focus on driving a digital-first approach to the brand."

The company stated it will invest less in what it calls 'elevated' product, taking a more pragmatic approach, having introduced "too far, too fast on both fashion and price," said Chirico.

Speculation about tension between Simons and the PVH leadership team has since made headline news. Quartzy even hinted Simons may be considering his exit strategy, after Chirico publicly stated his disappointment in the results in very clear terms. Scaling back his investment in the 205 collection in order to focus on more commercial product could be regarded as a blow to Simons.

Is Raf Simons too high brow for Calvin Klein?

Simons, meanwhile, left the gilded environs of Dior to become the creative head of Calvin Klein, a colossal brand in turnover, but less so in cache. His appointment was in no uncertain terms to revive a degree of relevance, at least in the elevated fashion categories outside of its core businesses. There was no elevated product. Seeing Simons' track record implementing his artistic vision and cerebral take on fashion to brands including Dior, Jil Sander and his own label, it would be naive to think his Calvin Klein revival would have become anything else.

Simons often asks in his work, what is America today? And how do you reflect that in clothing, advertising, fragrance, "and the whole architecture of a multi-billion dollar brand like Calvin Klein," asks Another Magazine? The answer, perhaps, may be to look no further than its jeans and underwear. The American Dream never comes with a guarantee.

Photo credit: Calvin Klein official Facebook page

 

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