Raf Simons and Calvin Klein are parting ways, effective immediately. In a statement, the company said, “Both parties have amicably decided to part ways after Calvin Klein Inc. decided on a new brand direction which differs from Simons’s creative vision.” According to Business of Fashion, Simons still has eight months left on his contact with the American mega brand.
Signs that the Belgian designer’s high-end vision at the fashion house—creative control over the high end 205W39NYC label as well as the mass CK collections and all marketing and advertising—wasn’t going as well as hoped were made clear last month when the company reported a $21 million loss in year-over-year sales, which it blamed on a fatter marketing budget. Emmanuel Chirico, chairman of CK parent company PVH, also pinned the losses on clothing that was "too elevated and too fashion-forward for our core consumer.”
It’s a blow to parent company PVH’s bottom line but also for the American fashion scene. Simons’s reputation as a creative visionary and modernist among big-name designers brought some much-needed cache to capital-F fashion this side of the Atlantic and for New York Fashion Week. While the clothes may not have connected with a large customer base, Raf’s ideas did break through. His twists on western wear are just bleeding through to the masses and his proposals for less strict tailoring, classic fit jeans, and apocalypse-ready gear were in lockstep with where menswear is headed.
CK is the third big-name house for which Simons has served as creative in charge but only the first where his designs didn’t resonate with customers off the bat. At Dior he set a new course for the French brand after John Galliano’s own early departure and before that gave Jil Sander a much-needed dose of newness. Then again, in those roles Simon’s wasn’t equally responsible for selling $3,000 topcoats and $23 pairs of underwear the way he was at Klein. The line between big ideas that move the needle and big business isn’t a direct one, which is why other brands tend to stay in one lane.
One victim of this fallout is the Calvin Klein runway show that was on the schedule for February, effectively scrapping whatever was in the works, but Simons will still show his namesake label. In the end, maybe it’s for the best: Simons is at his best when he’s partnering with artists like Sterling Ruby, creating archive-worthy outerwear, or getting carried away by his favorite musicians without worrying about how that vision will trickle down to the mall. An optimistic view on this move is that it frees Raf up to be Raf. But one of American fashion’s most interesting experiments has now come to an abrupt end.
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