If a friendly passer-by only just lifted the rock you were trapped under for the past few months, here you go: the visionary Belgian designer Raf Simons was named chief creative officer of Calvin Klein in August of 2016, confirming swirling rumours which had only intensified after the dual departure of veteran Calvin Klein designers Francisco Costa & Italo Zuchelli a few months prior.
For many, Simons’ departure from Dior in 2015 and subsequent candour on the killer pace of fashion signified a shift back to a calmer-paced life, perhaps exclusively focused on the namesake Raf Simons brand. So taking over such a huge, iconic American staple seemed like a droll move. But Calvin Klein is no centuries-old couture house, there is a lot of room to play around in here. The options for Raf’s Calvin are googolplex.
So what have we gathered so far?
WHEN CAN WE SEE IT?
The first show, for AW17, has been announced: February 10th 2017 at 10 AM (local) at New York Fashion Week. The exact location remains to be disclosed.
WHAT WILL IT LOOK LIKE?
Raf Simons will simultaneously show menswear and womenswear for his Calvin Klein debut, which is a first for the designer but reaffirms the recent rise of this runway practice. Fashion buyers were the only ones to see Calvin Klein SS17 womenswear because Raf Simons and his team were not yet involved in the collection’s design, so we have no idea what the last pre-Raf Simons collection looks like before it hits stores next year. Whether the riproaringly popular #MyCalvins campaign will continue under Simons is still up in the air but looking at Raf and Calvin Klein’s shared affinity with youth culture, I wouldn’t expect the brand to primarily start catering to the salon couture audience any time soon. The Raf Simons SS17 show delved into a New York underground mood with its distressed knits and explicit Robert Mapplethorpe prints, which might be a nudge towards what’s to come. New York gossip stalwart Page Six – Raf has them to look forward to – have also reported spotting best friend and collaborator artist Sterling Ruby frequently hanging out at the CK offices, but for all we know they were just making lunch plans. But here’s hoping!
Raf Simons SS17
WILL IT JUST BE CLOTHING?
In their appointment statement, the Calvin Klein brand said that “Mr. Simons will lead the creative strategy of the Calvin Klein brand globally across the Calvin Klein Collection, Calvin Klein Platinum, Calvin Klein, Calvin Klein Jeans, Calvin Klein Underwear and Calvin Klein Home brands. As part of his role as Chief Creative Officer, Mr. Simons will oversee all aspects of Design, Global Marketing and Communications, and Visual Creative Services.” A total reunification and streamlining operation which the brand has not seen since Calvin Klein was at the helm before selling his company in 2003. Also: don’t forget Raf Simons is actually a trained industrial/furniture designer and currently carries a line of upholstery and furnishings with Kvadrat (those gorgeous speckled and mohair cushions still haunt my dreams) so Homeware might become one of the strongest pillars of the brand. It will most likely retreat from the Pierre Cardin license-every-damn-thing route Calvin Klein had been going down in recent years though.
WHO’S WITH HIM?
It’s safe to say that the core team will remain unchanged, right-hand man Pieter Mulier who charmed us all in the “Dior and I” documentary was appointed Creative Director, reporting only directly to Raf Simons. Mulier will be carrying out Raf’s creative and design vision for womenswear and menswear. Simons’ first official portrait as CK’s CCO was also shot by long-time collaborator and friend, the great Willy Vanderperre. This can only bode well.
WHAT ABOUT RAF SIMONS, THE BRAND?
The appointment luckily did not upend the Raf Simons brand, but the brand will move the AW17 collection from its traditional slot in Paris to New York Fashion Week: Men’s (currently in its fourth edition). The show will be held on February 1st. A practical move in all likelihood but it does leave Paris with a gaping oversized puffa jacket-shaped hole in its fashion week calendar and makes the global fashion community focus on New York with renewed intensity. Exciting stuff!
In a 2011 interview, the designer was already contemplating a move to NYC, drawn by the city’s art scene. A first sign of Simons' plans to also merge art and fashion at Calvin Klein is the brand's recent unveiling of their holiday windows, featuring light installations by the late conceptual artist Dan Flavin. We’ll never fully know the exact reasons why this was the job Raf decided on, of course, but the position may afford him more liberty to speak his truth. “I think that designers should be freer to say what we really think”, he stated in System Magazine recently. “I felt like there was all this pressure on how to behave and how not to behave [at Dior], or how to speak. Not that I was given a list of rules; it just automatically happens like that.“ He might even feel at ease throwing the odd bit of shade now: “I know that if Miuccia [Prada] and I were speaking in a closed environment, we would speak in more extreme ways, and about other brands, too.” Whichever deity can turn me into a fly on that wall, make it so!
Raf Simons AW14 (created with Sterling Ruby, rumoured Calvin Klein collaborator)
WHERE CAN I BUY RS CK?
Seen that stores like Urban Outfitters currently sell Calvin Klein diffusion lines, it will be interesting to see which shops will start carrying the renewed brand since upscale concept stores will obviously have an interest in acquiring pieces like never before. Calvin Klein Collection currently has few flagship stores (it's a 'halo brand', meaning its projected image is more important than the revenue it provides) so expanding in this sense would be a costly enterprise. Online retail might play an important part for the renewed brand as it already does so.
WILL I BE ABLE TO AFFORD IT?
Calvin Klein Collection under Zuchelli and Costa already came at a pretty penny (each piece orbiting the 1000 euros range), CK and CK Jeans have always been the more affordable subset (starting around 30 euros). In the same System interview, Raf Simons lamented the size some companies take on, the entire structure overshadowing the actual fashion. “Sometimes I think I would like to make it simpler, but more exciting…”, he mused. So the high end spectrum will remain intact, I suspect, while the entry-level stuff might increase price-wise to shrink the line’s size. Or everything could become one small line priced at a medium level. See these straws? I’m clutching voraciously here!
Calvin Klein Collection AW16
Over the course of his career, Raf Simons has conquered Milan Fashion week with Jil Sander and Paris with his own line since 1997 plus with Dior (couture). He even staged his SS17 menswear show at Pitti Uomo in Florence, to shake things up. New York is a fresh start, a new direction, that can only serve to reinvigorate this genius mind (London: you might be next!) So, for now, all we can do is wait with breaths bated. However, it’s already Calvin Crystal Clear that this will be an endlessly fascinating pairing we can all look forward to analyzing (and wearing, hopefully).