Not so fast, at least: the brand's parent company says CK Jeans will get a not-quite-so-fashion-forward tweak.
This is an odd way to start a story about a fashion conglomerate, but stay with me: consider Tom Thibodeau. The Minnesota Timberwolves head coach is also his team’s general manager, and so far the evidence—signing a bunch of over-the-hill guys who used to play for him, and trading his best player—suggests that it’s difficult to do both jobs effectively. The idea is that the need to perform day-in and day-out directly conflicts with the imperative to build a sustainable future.
Which brings us to Raf Simons. In addition to running his own line, the beloved Belgian designer serves as the chief creative officer of Calvin Klein. It’s a hefty brief, literally: Simons oversees Calvin Klein’s underwear division, along with divisions like denim, men’s and women’s 205W39NYC runway collections, and home goods. He’s also in charge of the marketing. New York fashion critic Cathy Horyn described this degree of control as “unprecedented” when Simons was hired, and he quickly set about exercising it: Simons tasked Peter Saville with redesigning the brand’s classic logo, and started churning out runway collections that traded CK’s previous earth-toned minimalism for high-contrast, high-fashion takes on Americana. He also redesigned the brand’s stores, embarked on an art- and undies-heavy series of advertising campaigns (including an unheard-of partnership with the Andy Warhol Foundation), and churned out more than one affordably-priced line of jeans and basics.
Critics have loved much of it; Simons’ outsider’s take on American myth—marching bands, horror movies, barns, Warhol—has resonated. The clothes are also very cool, and instantly recognizable—meaning they’ve been catnip for the influencer class, too. (Just ask Jeff Goldblum.) But running Calvin Klein means more than just turning out killer runway collections, and it seems as if Simons' vision isn’t as beloved in every corner of the massive business.
Emmanuel Chirico, chairman of CK parent company PVH, told investors on a recent conference call that he is “disappointed” with the brand’s performance, WWD reports. The company’s quarterly earnings were down $21 million year over year, which CK attributes to a $10 million bump in advertising costs—and that’s where new changes will take place, to start. Budgets for the notably extravagant runway shows will be shifted over toward marketing, per WWD, and the way that money is spent will change, too: the paper quotes Chirico as saying that “halo marketing”—think those big, shiny, Warhol- and Kardashian-filled ads—will give way to micro-influencer marketing on social media.
Chirico’s most pungent comments, though, were reserved for CK Jeans, the brand’s workhorse denim line. That offering—a fashion-friendly collection marked by jeans with side stripes and boxy denim jackets—was, per Chirico, “too elevated and too fashion-forward for our core consumer.” It turns out that mallgoers might not want trickle-down Raf so much as they want jeans that just look like...jeans.
For now, Calvin Klein isn’t in any kind of trouble—the company’s yearly revenue has ticked up relative to last year. But Simons is as big a star as the fashion industry has right now; that PVH has decided that his vision needs an adjustment feels significant. This is in part because Simons’ Sauron-like job description is slowly becoming the new normal. When Celine hired rock star Hedi Slimane earlier this year, he got a similar deal: he’s the “artistic, creative, and image director,” and is overseeing that line’s extension into menswear and fragrance. He’ll also do the ads. At Burberry, too, new hire Riccardo Tisci has a heavy brief as chief creative officer. But those are all luxury brands; none of them have to worry about balancing bleeding-edge runway collections with basics for basics to buy, as Simons does. Running a business of that size and breadth is a herculean task, and wearing multiple hats will tire out even the strongest neck. The fashion world is better off for having Simons’ runway collections at Calvin Klein, but his future at the brand might be tied to doing something a little further outside his comfort zone: selling jeans that people who’ve never heard of Raf Simons want to buy.
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